Want to know about an easy but absolutley stunning garnish? Balsamic Vinegar Pears are your answer! They look fussy but they really aren't.
They are not difficult to make but you have to be precise.
The biggest challenge is probably to find the Agar agar you are going to need to make them gel. Bulk Barn sometimes carries it but they were out when I was looking.
Agar agar is used as a gelatin substitute in vegan cooking so look for shops that cater to vegetarian/vegan lifestyles. If all else fails... Amazon will have some to you door in a day or 2!
I came late to the Vinegar Pearls party.... I was lucky to be having lunch at a Michelin star restaurant in Gratallops, Priorat in Spain and my grilled scallop appetizer came adorned with gorgeous golden vinegar pearls! I think they were white wine vinegar.
I used balsamic vinegar for a condiment more than others but I am sure you could make them with any vinegar. I am eyeing up a bottle of sherry vinegar as I write this... I think that will be amazing!
Back to the instructions.... the first time I made them they worked like a charm. The second time they didn't turn out. They started out as a droplet but lost their shape by the bottom of the glass. I am glad the first try worked or I may have been discouraged. The lesson-make sure your oil is cold, cold, cold.
The concept is you reduced the vinegar slightly by bringing to a boil and the agar agar acts like gelatin to make the drops gel and hold their shape. But the oil has to be cold so the droplets have time to cool down and keep their droplet form. Also you want to use the tallest glass you can so the drops have lots of time travelling through the cold oil before they reach the bottom. I use a tall beer glass that is about 8" tall.
Also find a container that allows you to control the drips consistently. I used an empty Balsamic glaze squeeze bottle. An eye dropper would also work. You would have to just draw some of the vinegar reduction in to the dropper and keep going back to refill the dropper.
On my second failed attempt they started out as droplets but when the reached the bottom of the glass they just melded together into a leathery blob.
- You can use any kind of oil. I have had success with both olive oil and canola oil.
- Bring the vinegar to a boil with the agar agar stirring almost constantly. It will start to thicken noticeably. Remove it from the heat and give it lots of time to cool. Check it after 5 minutes.
- I use a small plastic bottle that once held balsamic glaze. You want something you can squeeze with a very small opening to push the drops out. You could use an eye dropper or one of the medical syringes designed to measure medicine -(not the ones that would be a needle in your arm). You could even try a mustard or ketchup squeeze bottle -though they will be very big for the ⅓ cup or so of liquid you will have.
- Use the tallest glass you can. An 8" beer glass works well because it will give the drops lots of time to travel through the cold oil.
- Add 2 cups of oil to your glass and give it at least 30 minutes in the freezer. Do not skimp on the freezer time to cool the oil. If you oil isn't cold enough the pearls won't hold their shape.
- I squeezed the drops out holding my bottle about 6" above the glass. It gives the drops even more time to cool down. The pearls will sink to the bottom.
- When you have made the pearls, strain the oil into a measuring cup. You will catch the vinegar pearls in the strainer and can rinse them under cold water. They are actually quite sturdy at this point. Then transfer them to a sealed container until ready to use them. They will keep in the fridge, sealed for a week-probably longer but I am not sure how to gage that!
- Funnel the oil into a small sealed container and keep it in the fridge. You can use it in other cooking endeavours.
- Enjoy this elegant garnish to take your presentation up a notch!
I used them to garnish this Zucchini Custard. I think they would be good on bruschetta, maybe as garnish in a cold soup, added garnish on a salad.
Balsamic Vinegar Pearls
- ⅓ cup balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon agar agar
- 2 cups oil olive or canola work well.
- Chill the oil in a tall narrow glass in the freezer for at least 30 minutes.
- Bring vinegar and agar agar to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Simmer until sauce starts to thicken. This might take 5 minutes depending on your pot size and heat.
- Remove vinegar from the heat and allow to cool at least 5 minutes.
- Transfer vinegar to a squeezable bottle or syringe.
- Remove the oil from the freezer and gently squeeze out droplets from several inches above the glass.
- Watch as the droplets move down through the oil to the bottom. They should retain their droplet shape when they reach the bottom.
- When you have used all the vinegar, use a sieve and strain the oil out into a measuring cup. Rinse the pears that have remained in the sieve under cold water. Allow them to drain and then transfer to a sealed container. You can use immediately or refrigerate. You can re-use the oil if you keep it refrigerated.
- Use your pearls as garnish as desired.