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Savor the Full Flavor: Pinching Pennies Without Sacrificing Quality

By Cynthia Liu

As a Draeger’s shopper, you have some disposable income to spend on food. Yet during these economic times, what do you do about basics such as salt and vinegar? Is fleur de sel worth the splurge? Is a $35 balsamic that much better than a $6 one? Remember that a little bit of great flavor goes a long way.

Culinary Oils: Know what type of oil you’d like to use, but not sure which brand to buy? Freshness is paramount. Heat, UV light and air all contribute to oxidation. Is there an expiration or production date? Is the oil packaged in a clear container? Was it handpicked or machine harvested? Cold-pressed or chemically extracted? Refined? Is it organic or a varietal higher in antioxidants? Where was the oil produced—the shelf life may be affected by the transport time and method. Also, food regulations abroad are often lax. If you are still wavering on the cost, save the more expensive version to finish the dish—for example, cook with a $15 EVOO and drizzle the more flavorful $35 EVOO sparingly before serving.

Salt: You can buy over a pound of Morton’s salt for daily use for less than $1. Better yet, for about the same price you can buy kosher salt, which has a cleaner taste without anticaking agents. Then for finishing a dish, you can use hand-harvested fleur de sel, Himalayan pink salt, Maldon salt or other gourmet salts, which have dimensions of flavor because the natural minerals have not been washed out.

Vinegar: Why is Heinz cider vinegar $3 and Katz cider vinegar $10? Traditionally vinegar was made by the Orleans Method (Katz), allowing fermentation to occur naturally over months. Nowadays, most vinegar lacks flavor nuances because it can be made in less than a week using an acetator machine (Heinz).

Balsamic Vinegar: Traditionally made 12-year-old balsamic vinegar costs over $100 a bottle. It is basically cooked grape juice (also known as “must”) that has fermented and concentrated through evaporation over time. Though less complex, you can expect to pay $30 and up for a delicious “finishing” balsamic that is aged for about six years. Then there are the $5 to $15 balsamic condiments. Although most of the less expensive balsamics are simply not aged as long as a consortium-regulated one, some are merely a blend of wine vinegar and must. Just beware of impostors containing caramel color or artificial flavors. Inexpensive balsamics will never have the depth of flavor that the pricier ones do. However, you can reduce them to transform them into a delectable syrup that is close in viscosity to the real deal.

Parmesan: We’re not talking about the green can here. The genuine, consortium-regulated Parmigiano-Reggiano is a complex and fruity table cheese made from unpasteurized raw milk and aged for at least one year. Then there are Parmesans that are less expensive, saltier, aged for a shorter period and less flavorful. Enjoy the Parmigiano-Reggiano straight or use it to finish a dish, and use Parmesan in the background of dishes such as baked pasta or stuffed artichokes.

Bacon: When you consider the fact that smoking (as opposed to liquid smoke) shrinks the bacon so you are paying for less fat and more quality meat, artisan bacon at $10 per pound doesn’t seem exorbitant. So enjoy this “table” bacon straight or make it the star of your burger or pasta. Then wrap the thinner, fattier, one-dimensional supermarket version around dates, water chestnuts, shrimp, scallops, filet mignon or tenderloin.

Truffle Oil: As chef Daniel Patterson of Coi can attest, most commercial truffle oils are synthetic. Connie Green, owner of Wine Forest Mushrooms, a forager who supplies top restaurants such as the French Laundry, and author of the upcoming book The Wild Table, concurs. Most synthetics mimic only the pig pheromone overtones of truffle and none of the subtle notes to round it out.

Vanilla: According to Patricia Rain, owner of The Vanilla.COMpany and author of Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance, vanilla is the most labor-intensive agricultural product in the world. You can save money by buying extract instead of whole beans. Even lower-quality extract that is processed at a higher temperature is better than the fake stuff. Vanilla flavoring sold in the United States is made from trees or rice bran. So-called vanillas from Latin America are synthesized from trees or coal tar and may also contain coumarin, the blood thinner used as rat poison.

Parmesan-Stuffed Dates Wrapped with Bacon
Serves 8

24 dried dates, pitted ¼ pound Parmesan cheese, cut into ½-by- ¼-inch sticks 12 slices of supermarket bacon, cut in half 24 toothpicks, soaked in cold water

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Stuff a piece of Parmesan into the center of the date. Wrap each date with a piece of bacon. Use a toothpick to secure the bacon around the date. Place the dates on a sheet pan and bake for 15 minutes until crispy. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

Recipe is courtesy of Draeger’s Cooking School

Bacon-Wrapped Roast Pork Loin Serves 6 to 8

1 bunch sage leaves 1 boneless pork loin roast, 2 to 3 pounds Kosher salt and pepper 8 thin slices supermarket bacon 3 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced ½ cup dry white wine ½ cup chicken stock or broth ¼ cup heavy cream 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place oven rack in the middle position.

Salt and pepper the pork loin. Arrange the sage leaves on top of the pork loin. Lay the bacon slices over the sage. Secure the bacon with 12-inch lengths of kitchen twine; trim twine ends.

Place pork in a shallow roasting pan, and roast until bacon is browned and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part of the pork registers 145°F, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove roast from pan and place on a plate. Tent the roast loosely with foil and let rest 5 minutes.

Remove all but 2 tablespoons of the drippings from the roasting pan. Saute the shallots over medium high heat until they are limp and have some color. Deglaze with the wine and stock. Reduce by half, add cream, and reduce by half again. Add cold butter and whisk until smooth.

Snip twine with scissors and remove. Slice roast thinly and serve with shallot pan sauce.

Recipe is courtesy of Draeger’s Cooking School

The Pauper’s Balsamic

Take some cheap balsamic vinegar ($3 to $8 per bottle), pour it into a small saucepan, and simmer until the liquid has reduced to a third or a quarter of its original volume and has become thick and sweet, like a syrup or glaze.

Balsamic has a particular flavor affinity for tomatoes, berries, grilled or roasted foods, and Parmesan cheese.

Drizzle this syrup over: Fresh strawberries or raspberries Fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella cheese(see below) Grilled peaches or apricots Fresh figs Vanilla ice cream Fresh watermelon (sounds odd, but try it!)

Grilled or roasted chicken Grilled salmon Beef carpaccio with arugula and shaved Parmesan Grilled lamb Pork chops Pork tenderloin

Tomato bruschetta or crostini Grilled eggplant Roasted bell peppers Grilled asparagus Caramelized onions Jagged chunks of Parmesan cheese

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