China’s Answer to Balsamic VinegarPosted By | Posted On Jun 16, 2011
When I was a just a little kid my father used to hide his jar of cocktail onions, which he used for his pre-dinner Gibson, in a dresser drawer under his underwear. Chocolates and candy were never a temptation for me, not really being in possession of a sweet tooth. But there was something about those cocktail onions in their salty, vinegary brine that I just couldn’t resist.
I never outgrew my preference for sour over sweet, and these days, I like to think that I am something of a vinegar aficionado. My latest addiction is Gold Plum Brand Chinkiang Vinegar from China.
Most Chinese vinegars are based on rice. Chinkiang vinegar, which originated in the city of Zhenjiang in Jiangsu Province in Eastern China is no exception. The type of rice used to make Chinkiang vinegar is a black glutinous rice, and Chinkiang Vinegar is an example of a broader category known as Black Vinegar. Popular throughout China, the quality of Black Vinegar varies strongly. Lesser brands employ millet and sorghum along with black glutinous rice, and can be overpowered by the additions of sugar and caramel coloring. The better black vinegars are well-aged in wooden casks, often for generations, similar to the making of Aceto Balsamico tradizionale in Italy. These prime vinegars display a complex, dark, malty character.
The best Chinkiang vinegars are made from only three ingredients; glutinous rice, water and salt. But again, not all Chinkiang vinegars are created equal. It’s often difficult to distinguish one brand from another, as different manufacturers are prone to copy label designs and colors, and use similar names. Gold Plum Brand is generally considered to be the best, and took first prize in the prestigious French Laurier d”Or de la Qualite Internationale awards in 1985. Other similarly packaged Chinkiang vinegars such as the almost identical looking Red Plum Brand, lack the smokiness and finesse of Gold Plum. Look for Chinese characters surrounding the plum logo on the bottleneck label. The character on the left has a “roof” on top.
Chinkiang Vinegar can be used in dipping sauces for dumplings or spring rolls, with noodles, in soups or in braised dishes along with ginger and star anise.
Look for Gold Plum Brand Chinkiang Vinegar at Chung Wah Hong Market located at 55 Beach Street, in Chinatown.