For our ingredient spotlight this week, we are picking an ingredient that most people have tasted or cooked with – balsamic vinegar.
We adore balsamic vinegar because it adds so much flavor and really makes a dish stand out. Its incredible versatility has allowed us to enhance an elegant Balsamic Caprese Chicken dish for dinner; jazz up a side of Garlic Roasted Broccoli with a simple balsamic vinaigrette; and make pork tenderloins extraordinary with a quick Cran-Balsamic Sauce.
Today, we use this robust vinegar to caramelize red onions, which usually requires low heat and slow cooking to caramelize the sugars without burning the onions. By adding a splash of balsamic vinegar to the onions, we concentrate the sugars in the vinegar, allowing the sweetness of the vinegar to coat the onions and make them buttery and delicious.
“Those onions were truly ‘amazeballs’! I cooked them a little lower and slower, since I have a deep and abiding love for well-caramelized onions. With the balsamic and jam, even my kids ate them up.” -Kara
Balsamic vinegar comes from Modena, a city in north Italy. It is made from Trebbiano grapes, but unlike red wine or white wine vinegars, the grapes are not fermented. Its full flavor comes from boiling and reducing the pressed grapes until it becomes thick and syrupy.
Really good balsamic vinegar is placed into oak barrels to age, and as the years go by, more liquid gets evaporated, concentrating the flavor even more. As the amount of vinegar lessens, it gets transferred to different barrels made of different woods (such as chestnut, cherry, and ash), which adds to the flavor the vinegar.
“I am not a huge pork lover but this meal was delicious! The ingredients were simple but the flavors were robust.” -Lainie
However, many commercial balsamic vinegars undergo a shorter aging process, and some do not even go through all the barrel stages, but these are still good to use in salad dressings, marinades, and the Balsamic Red Onions we feature in our recipe.
These caramelized onions are served with pork chops, which are seared until brown, so all the juices are sealed in. The key to searing pork chops is to make sure the pan is smoking hot.
Bone-in pork chops are great because the bone adds flavor and keeps the meat moist, but feel free to try your favorite cut of pork and let us know the results!
“The pork chops were amazing. I made them in a cast iron pan, which gave them a good crust. The meal was a great combination of flavors and textures.” -Paige
Save on time by seasoning and tenderizing the pork the day before, and slicing the onions up to 3 days in advance. Learn how:
As Cook Smarts member Paige advises, searing the pork chops in a cast iron skillet will give the pork a good crust.
For more kitchen and equipment and tool smarts, visit our ‘Essential Kitchen Cookware and Tools’
For More Smarts:
The real, traditional balsamic vinegar will cost a pretty penny, but more affordable balsamic vinegar is also tasty. Look at the ingredients to make sure no sugar is added, as sugar may be added to hide the bitter flavor of a low-quality balsamic. True balsamic has only one ingredient – must, which is the unfermented white grape juice and bits used to make the vinegar.
Pork today is a lot leaner than pork back then, so while less fat is healthier, it also means less moisture. A good way for the meat to retain moisture is to leave it out at room temp for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking, so the meat is not cold. If cold meat hits a hot pan, the meat will seize up and firm, so letting it come to room temp will help it…you know, relax a little before you gobble it up!
- Pork chops – 4 <1″ thick
- Red onions (large) – 1, sliced
- Cooking oil – 1 tbs. + 1 tbs.
- Balsamic vinegar – 1½ tbs.
- Jam – 1 tbs. (strawberry, grape, mixed berry)
- Pork chops – Season & tenderize with salt & pepper. (Can be done up to 1 day ahead)
- Red onions (Double if making Thursday’s dinner) – Prep as directed. (Can be done up to 3 days ahead)
- Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbs. of cooking oil, and then add pork chops to heated oil. Sear on both sides for 3 minutes. Lower heat to medium, cover with foil, and cook for another 1 to 3 minutes, until pork reaches 145 degrees. Remove and set aside.
- Return skillet that you cooked the pork in to medium heat. Add in remaining tbs. of cooking oil and then red onions to heated oil with a sprinkle of salt. Saute until they’re super soft, ~10 minutes. If the pan ever looks dry and the onions look like they might burn, add in a splash of water.
- At the very end, add in balsamic vinegar and jam. Cook for another minute or two to let the flavors absorb.
- Serve over pork chops and alongside orzo, quinoa, or the grain of your choice.