Black vinegar (Recipe: peanut dipping sauce)
There's a saying -- a joke -- in my house:
The more you have, the more you buy.
Now, I am not a shopaholic. Really. Oh, occasionally I might go a bit over budget in restaurant supply stores, or a certain favorite used cookbook shop near Fall River, Massachusetts. Or late at night on eBay, when I'm cruising the melamine bowl listings. Or in a shop that sells hand-dyed yarns or Japanese note papers embedded with bits of leaves and gold flecks...
No, in this case, the "you" is me, and the "more" is vinegar. I've had a mental block about it for years. I never remember how much regular distilled vinegar I have in the pantry, or whether I have any of the special ones like champagne or raspberry or seasoned rice or organic cider vinegar hand-pressed somewhere in Canada.
So I buy them all, over and over again, which explains why I have two bottles of black vinegar in my pantry.
Black vinegar is made by a process of fermentation and aging; in this case, the fermenting ingredient is glutinous black rice. The resulting vinegar, when properly aged, has a more assertive, smoky and woodsy taste, naturally sweeter than regular white vinegar, somewhat like a cross between balsamic and Worcestershire. However, though it looks somewhat like balsamic, black vinegar is made from grain, not grapes, which gives it a different flavor profile.
The best quality black vinegar -- also called black rice, brown rice, Chinkiang, Chekiang, or Zhejiang vinegar -- comes from the province of Chinkiang in southwestern China. Gold Plum brand, considered by many cooks to be the best tasting brand, made from glutinous rice and malt, won the prestigious French Laurier d'Or de la Qualité Internationale in 1985.
If you've never used black vinegar before, start by substituting it one-for-one in some of your favorite recipes that call for balsamic or Worcestershire sauce. Try your favorites, like dan dan noodles or kung pao chicken; you'll be amazed at how authentic your Chinese cooking tastes when you use authentic condiments. Then, move on to spicy Thai eggplant, butter and black vinegar tarts, minced pork linguine, chili chicken with cashews, or kecap manis glazed pork belly.
Add black vinegar to marinades and bastes, as well as dressings and sauces. Or use it straight as a dipping sauce, in braises, or for curing meat.
You can purchase black vinegar online or in your local Asian market; compared to balsamic, it's a bargain. Be sure to read the ingredient list carefully; I have several black vinegars in my pantry, from China and Taiwan, each a bit different. Look for one that lists rice, or something rice-like, as the first ingredient; those usually are sweeter. Tasting is the only way to find the vinegar that will become your favorite.
Peanut dipping sauce
Adapted from Nina Simonds' Asian Noodles, this sauce has undergone several metamorphoses in my kitchen over the years. I use it as a sauce for pasta (hot or cold), or slathered on grilled chicken sandwiches. Makes 3 cups.
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, cut in half
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tsp chili paste with garlic, or more to taste
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 packet sugar substitute (Equal or Splenda)
2 tsp agave nectar
3/8 cup black vinegar
3/8 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp water
In a food processor, combine garlic and ginger, and pulse until finely chopped. Add remaining ingredients, and process until the mixture is smooth. It should be the consistency of heavy cream; to thicken, add peanut butter. To thin, add water. Store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid, in the refrigerator, for up to two weeks. The longer it sits, the spicier it will get.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Cold eggplant salad
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I was shopping the other day and saw the range of vinegars out there. I even saw Sweet Black Rice Vinegar...wonder what is that?
Oh! I have to look for this. From the price tags in your photo, it is inexpensive, too!
Good timing...am going to Beantown this AM and will stop at Super 88
but, Lydia: 3/8 of a cup???
All these suggestions sound great! I have a bottle in my pantry too, but have never really experimented with it - only used it when the recipe called for it.
Yum, I love black vinegar. ...my parents used it a lot in braises.
I have never seen this before. I can't wait to try this!
Used cookbook store in Fall River? Oh, please, do tell. Can I possibly want more cookbooks? You bet!
How much exactly IS 3/8 cup?
Tigerfish, I'm guessing sweet black rice vinegar is the same as what I use. The rice is often called "sweet black glutinous rice". But next time you see it, check the ingredient label -- maybe there is some caramel added. Then, please let me know what you discover!
Paz, even the best quality black vinegar is inexpensive compared to Worcestershire sauce or balsamic. That's often what I find with Asian ingredients.
Marcia, Joy: 3/8 of a cup is 6 tablespoons! And the sugar substitute/agave nectar combination makes this much lower on the glycemic index, retaining the sweetness and viscosity of honey.
Julia, I particularly love this vinegar with eggplant and tofu. Can't wait to see what else you come up with -- you're such a great improviser.
Veron, it does add a richness to braising liquid.
Mary, it's easy to find in Asian markets, though I never see it in the regular grocery store. If you can't find it, there are great online sources.
Michele, Eagle Trading Company in Assonet. The owner's name is Chuck Williams. The store is a hidden gem -- only used cookbooks, including many rare books, and incredible selection.
I must have about 6 diff. vinegars in my pantries here at home. I wish they would start selling "little" bottles of vinegar; you know one or three use servings.
I am a huge peanut sauce addict. I eat a lot of peanut noodle salad as I call it. I put cukes, red peppers, red onions, black olives, kidney beans, noodles, peanut sauce and way too many chopped peanuts in it. It sounds gross, but ohhhhhhh so good.
I am the same way with vinegar. I have tons of bottles of different kinds, in multiples!
I'm going to try this in my next Kung Pao Chicken dish.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that used cookbook store.
And Mr. Williams is indeed a gem.
Just call before you go. His hours are not regular.
I love to drizzle lots of black vinegar to Chinese starchy soups such as hot&sour soup and fish maw soup. Thanks for the tip about substituting them for balsamic or Worcestershire sauce :)
I'll have to give it a try. Never used it before!
Lydia, I have to be honest - I have never heard of black vinegar!
I like to use mine for dipping sauce.
Oooh! Lydia, this looks amazing. I loooove peanut sauce. It's my favorite dipping dauce for chicken satay, sesame noodles, even cucumbers. Thank youuu!
Lydia, you crack me up! I myself have gone looking for something, not found it, bought more, and then found the thing I was looking for in the first place!
Oh no! Another something to add to my pantry! My buy all the time is couscous, I end up with boxes and boxes of it in my pantry.
what a helpful blog you have here... i grew up with my mom using chinkiang black vinegar, she was, and she still is able to create wonderful dishes with it... love your peanut dip... will try your recipe soon... thanks for sharing...:)
Isn't it funny that a minute ago I never knew I needed black vinegar. Now I am wondering what I ever did without it!!
This is a new one for me. We do not have very good ethnic food or resources here, so will have to procure it elsewhere. You always surprise with something new and interesting. Thanks..
Hehe, I'm the same way. If money was no object I would go totally nuts in kitchen supply stories and bookstore. It would take no effort whatsoever, lol.
Dawn, your noodle salad doesn't sound gross at all -- it sounds delicious, healthy, and adaptable!
Kristen, I'm so glad to hear that I'm not the only one who can't keep track of her vinegar inventory.
Sue, Eagle Trading Company is one of those true gems, a destination, and I never tire of going there. The cookbook selection is astonishing.
Noobcook, yes, it's fabulous in hot and sour soup!
Bea, you'll find it at any of the Asian markets in Boston.
Patricia, until I worked at a publishing company in Chinatown when I first moved to Boston, and started doing lots of Chinese cooking, I'd never heard of black vinegar either.
Maya, me too.
Hillary, I have to say that this peanut sauce is the best. Really. The best!
Rebecca, I've always kept pretty good track in my head of what's in my pantry. But the vinegar thing... that's just a mental block I've had for years. At least we do laugh about it!
Pam, okay, I have a couscous problem too -- always buying more, and then every so often I'll make a big party dish and I'll be glad I've got all of the couscous in the house.
Mikky, thanks, and welcome! I'm always looking for new recipe ideas for the ingredients I have on hand, so I'd love to know what kinds of things your mother makes with her black vinegar.
Aimee, watch out -- that's how my pantry got so filled in the first place! But this is one unusual ingredient you will like, and will use. I promise.
Kim, thank goodness for the Internet, and online ordering. Black vinegar is readily available from some good online sources. Enjoy!
Ari, no effort at all. Frightening, isn't it? I'm so not a shopper when it comes to anything else -- but kitchen stuff and books of all kinds? No self control.
After posting the ishy marinade I received questions about black rice vinegar. I'm sending people to this post...
I have two bottles of black vinegar too. One says black vinegar on it and one has the Asian name written. I didn't realize at the time that they were basically the same.
I love spicy peanut sauce, it is a house fave here. Great recipe.
are there some dishes (mostly northern Chinese) going particularly well with black vinegar? I would be very upset if that restuarants didn't give me the right type of vinegar :)
L, I LUUUVVVE Japanese note papers too! But here hard to find...
Okay, saving this recipe right away. This is one that I simply must try (and amazingly enough, I do have the black vinegar!)
We always dip dumplings in black vinegar and sesame oil. I just love the stuff.
Jasmine, loved your "ishy" post -- and so nice to find another use for black vinegar.
Natashya, that's how I end up with duplicates in my pantry, too.
Gattina, I think dishes that require long cooking (often from the north) lend themselves to this vinegar. And I'm so happy to know you are also a fan of Japanese papers -- I think they make the most exquisite papers anywhere.
Kalyn, this really is my favorite version of my favorite peanut sauce.
Amy, I use black vinegar as a dip for dumplings and also for Vietnamese salad rolls.
this sounds like a fantastic ingredient. thank you for demystifying it for us.
Sweet black vinegar is used by the Chinese to make a dish with ginger, pig's feet and hard boiled eggs to serve to woman who have recently given birth. The combination of ginger and vinegar helps to restore the woman's body. Check it out....there should be information about this dish and its benefits on the internet.