When searching for that something, American home cooks frequently overlook one of the best and most ubiquitous choices: vinegars. The sharp acidity and natural sweetness of vinegars — not to mention their affinity for salty, savory flavours and ability to cut through fat — make them perfect for uniting the many ingredients and flavours of a dish.
Balsamic vinegar, for example, loves beef and tomatoes. Toss some of both on the grill, then heap them on a plate and scatter them with coarse salt and pepper, and finish with a hefty splash of balsamic. The vinegar not only heightens the natural sugars of the tomatoes and complements the savory flavours of the meat, it also cuts through the meaty, fatty flavours in the most pleasing way.
And where would starchy, mayo-rich potato salad be without a splash of cider vinegar to unite everything? Likewise, sushi rice without rice vinegar just wouldn't have that same tang that complements the fatty fish.
All of which is to say you need vinegars more than you know, and you need to start using them to finish dishes. Need a primer? Check out the line of finishing vinegars by Wozz Kitchen Creations, a tiny company that makes bracingly sharp, yet still sweet and refreshing finishing vinegars intended to be used straight up on salads, meats, and roasted or grilled vegetables, as well as in the occasional cocktail.
The company, which is based in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, produces a variety of fruit-infused vinegars, including spiced pear and ginger; cranberry saffron; Australian-style spiced beet; balsamic blueberry and maple; and my favourite, spiced strawberry rhubarb (which just so happens to go lovely in a tall glass of gin with ice and a splash of seltzer).
Try the spiced pear and ginger on grilled pork chops. The cranberry saffron vinegar is great on roasted winter squash. Spiced beet vinegar goes with toasted pumpkin seeds on fresh greens for a simple, but bold salad. And the balsamic blueberry and maple is wonderful drizzled over fresh berries in a yogurt parfait.
J.M. Hirsch is the food editor for The Associated Press. He blogs at http://www.LunchBoxBlues.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/JM_Hirsch . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org