The best balsamic marinade will use the powerful, deep taste of balsamic vinegar to flavor meats or vegetables without overpowering the dish. The flavor of balsamic vinegar can be combined with a number of strong herbs and can flavor a variety of foods, from steak to fish to vegetables. It compliments Italian spices such as marjoram and rosemary. The vinegar also can stand up to soy sauce in Asian marinades. The key to a good balsamic marinade is to find the right balance of marinating time, vinegar and other ingredients.
Something to realize when choosing the best balsamic marinade is that there are two types of balsamic vinegar available. The first is true, traditional balsamic vinegar. This is made from crushed grapes that have been aged for at least 12 years and has a thick, rich and slightly sweet flavor. The second type of balsamic vinegar is a more commercial version made from wine vinegar; it has additives such as food coloring, sweeteners and preservatives added. The flavor of the imitation balsamic is similar, but not really the same as the traditional variety.
The complex flavor of the vinegar has led to a variety of recipes. One type of balsamic marinade accents the sweetness of the vinegar and uses fruits such as oranges, lemons and juniper berries. These types of marinades are recommended for chicken or pork, so the meat will not overpower the subtleness of the flavors. It also can be used on salmon.
Another type of balsamic marinade uses strong and savory spices to create a marinade that can penetrate thick, fatty meats such as steak. These can include ingredients that are traditional to Italian cooking, including parsley, garlic, olive oil and red pepper flakes. One ingredient that is often used, especially in a beef marinade, is Worcestershire sauce, which helps add some depth. Sugar or brown sugar is often added to a savory balsamic marinade to balance the flavor.
The complex flavor of balsamic vinegar also can lead to more unconventional combinations of ingredients. A vanilla, basil and balsamic marinade can be used on salmon to create a dish with a unique taste. Green chilies can be combined with the vinegar to make a thick marinade that can add spice and depth to eggplants. Some marinades even call for the addition of ketchup.
Sometimes, the best balsamic marinade might be as simple as vinaigrette. This is just balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard and salt and pepper. This can be used on nearly any meat or vegetable and will impart the flavor of the balsamic vinegar into the food being marinated.