Basics indeed! the recipe is more a brief list of suggestions with room for personal tweaks and experimentation.
You can make reductions sauces from all sorts of liquids. One of my favorites is a balsamic reduction sauce where you slowly cook down a cup of balsamic vinegar until it reduces by half or if you like, even further until it becomes syrupy. This is great to drizzle over fish, chicken or pork chops.
You will often hear chefs say or cookbooks describe reducing a sauce until it is “thick enough to coat a spoon.” All this means is you dip a spoon in the sauce, and if the sauce sticks, it’s ready. If you reduce the sauce too much, just add a little more [liquid].It's true, a basic balsamic reduction can be just that easy.
A Basic Balsamic Reduction
Begin with a medium-quality balsamic vinegar (mine came from Trader Joes) and measure a generous cupful.
Transfer the liquid to a non-reactive cooking pan. This is a good time to measure the liquid with a dipstick and mark the starting height.
I chose a small saucepan but will use a saute pan next time. This will expose more surface area to the heat and should speed up the process somewhat.
Bring the vinegar to a slow, rolling boil over low-medium heat and slowly reduce the liquid by 75%. My first batch took about an hour, but I was overly cautious with the heat. Sources report that high heat will cause a burnt, bitter flavor - not a good thing in a sauce, so keep it low and slow. Be careful not to over-reduce the sauce, it burns easily! Use that dipstick occasionally to measure progress.
Check the consistency when there is roughly 1/4 cup left in the pan. The sauce should coat a spoon, but note that it will thicken more as it cools.
That's it, a basic balsamic reduction. The real fun begins when you play with the flavor, adjusting it to suit your taste and the intended use. My first attempt produced a pleasant tart/sweet syrupy sauce. Next time I will try adding a tiny sprig of rosemary and a few peppercorns at the start and add a touch of honey or brown sugar during the final minutes of cooking. This might result in a thicker version of the piquant white balsamic dressing for Kale Salad.
I think my targeted use, the savory Bacon and Date Tart, calls for a sweeter, slightly more assertive sauce. Hmmm, I wonder how Cafe Bink flavored their reduction. Any extra sauce will be drizzled over avocado slices and orange rounds, or spooned over roasted lamb, or accompany a cheese plate, or perhaps... You get the idea, a balsamic reduction is a terrific way to play with your food.