For so long, I thought vinegar's main role in my kitchen was as a mate to olive oil in a vinaigrette.
Then I encountered poulet au vinaigre de vin (chicken with wine vinegar) when I studied cooking in Paris.
The simple braise of chicken with vegetables, tomatoes and a lot of vinegar demonstrated how the latter could be more than simply the bright element in a salad.
I use vinegar with enthusiasm - to brighten a pot of garlicky greens, as a catalyst for unlocking flavour in fruit, as a glaze for meat, even as the zingy heart of a sophisticated soda.
For delicate dishes, I like a white
wine vinegar or champagne vinegar.
The two have essentially the same character
because the champagne vinegar retains none of the spritzes
of the actual champagne wine.
Use red wine vinegar for more robust uses, though I find that many are slap-you-in-the-face harsh, thin and astringent.
My go-to is sherry vinegar, which has an appealingly round, woodsy flavour with hints of caramel and vanilla, yet no sweetness whatsoever.
Last in my lineup is balsamic.
To be clear, balsamic vinegar has its place in a salad dressing, but only for green salads that are hardy, such as warm bacon and frisée salad.
Overall, there are better places to deploy the caramel notes and syrupy texture of balsamic than on a salad.
Really good balsamic is meant to be consumed as its own thing, but there are plenty of good commercial types of vinegar made in that style.
How to store vinegar
It keeps well in a dark pantry. Vinegar can't really spoil because it's already spoiled/fermented, and it's acidic, so no fear of using an older bottle.
However, that doesn't mean that vinegar is inert.
After many months, some vinegars may develop a film of ooky stuff floating around, it is harmless, but you may want to strain it out and then use it to start your own vinegar from leftover wine.
How to integrate it into your cooking
Make a simple French potato salad by boiling medium- to low-starch potatoes, crushing them lightly, and then, while they're still hot, moistening them deeply with white-wine vinegar. Finish with olive oil and a ton of salt and pepper, maybe chopped parsley. The potatoes will drink it up and your salad will be light and zippy.
After cooking pork chops, pour off the grease and deglaze your frying pan with a dose of balsamic. Let it simmer until reduced and syrupy and then finish with a chunk of cold butter, to create a sauce.
Give a fruit salad a sweet-savoury edge by sprinkling it with white wine vinegar. Dress a strawberry salad with balsamic and a pinch of brown sugar.