Key Ingredient :: WALNUT VINEGAR, Seattle Magazine October 2014
Tilikum Place Café chef/owner Ba Culbert reveals her secret culinary touch
A fortuitous souvenir brought back from France by her sister led Ba Culbert, chef and co-owner of Tilikum Place Café, to one of her dearest ingredients—walnut vinegar. While not a fan of other flavored vinegars, Culbert immediately loved how walnut vinegar has a “subtle and nuanced flavor that keeps dishes light.”
Walnut vinegar is sold in various hues and potencies, though Culbert prefers the French brand she uses at the café (see “Where to find it,” below). Dark in color, with an aroma of toasted walnut and an underlying sweetness, it shows up in dishes throughout the year. In spring, Culbert uses a splash as salad dressing, omitting the oil entirely. ”It has a delicate flavor, and I like to keep things lighter,” she says. “Plus, oil tends to wilt softer greens like arugula or watercress.” In summer, fresh, local fruit, such as strawberries, peaches or melon, is served tossed with walnut vinegar. Winter sees the vinegar as a finishing acid for a piquant bite on celery-root purée.
“I find it less predictable and much more interesting than walnut oil,” Culbert says, noting the vinegar’s nuttier fragrance and earthy flavor profile. Of course, being a chef, she tried to make a home version, but it’s still a work in progress. “Mine is more bitter and not as delicate,” she confesses.
Why you should try it: “Walnut vinegar gives you a brightness and also a subtle flavor component that is very complementary to root vegetables,” Culbert says
How to use this at home: Skip the squeeze of lemon and try walnut vinegar for a sweeter vinaigrette. Arugula, goat cheese and orange segments tossed with walnut vinegar make a lovely salad. It also pairs well with roasted grapes or cheese.
Where to find it: Culbert uses white-wine-vinegar-based Edmond Fallot vinaigre de vin blanc aromatisé à la noix from Paris Grocery near Pike Place Market ($6.49 for 8 ounces. 1418 Western Ave.; 206.682.0679; parisgroceryseattle.com). Marx Foods also carries Sparrow Lane walnut champagne vinegar from California ($25 for 6.75 ounces. Lower Queen Anne, 144 Western Ave. W; 206.447.1818; marxfoods.com).
Celery Root Puree
1 large bulb celery root (or 2 small)
Cream, to cover
Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
Walnut vinegar, to taste
Makes 4 to 6 servings
Peel celery root, either with a knife or peeler. Cut into even pieces, about 1 inch. Put in a small sauce pan and cover with cream. Put on stove and bring to a slow simmer, being careful to not let cream boil over. Simmer until tender. Strain the celery root and reserve the cream. Put celery root in a blender or food processor. Add some of the reserved cream, starting with just a little and added as necessary to achieve your desired consistency, processing until smooth. (The consistency you want will vary according to what you are serving it with. I generally like to make mine thinner rather than thicker.) Season with salt and a pinch of cayenne. (I like to use it instead of black pepper for this dish so it doesn't have black spots in it.) Add walnut vinegar at the end, starting with 1 to 2 teaspoons. Mix in and taste, add more according to your preference but a light or subtle touch allows the celery root to shine. Serve with seared salmon, roasted chicken or lamb, or roasted winter squash.
Green Bean Salad
2 pounds green beans, blanched and shocked
1/2 small red onion, shaved
1 pint baby heirloom tomatoes, skins removed (remove stem and score tomato, blanch in water that is at a rolling boil in small batches, or in hot oil, for 30 seconds and place in ice bath)
Candied, or toasted, walnuts (optional)
1 small shallot minced
2 Tablespoons walnut vinegar
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Makes 6 to 8 servings
In a small bowl add shallots and vinegar. Whisk in cream and season with salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will keep for up to one week.
In a larger bowl, add green beans, onions, tomatoes. Add half the dressing and toss gently until beans are evenly coated. Add more dressing as desired. Serve on a large plate and top with candied walnuts.
Read all about walnut vinegar here.
PHOTO CREDIT :: Andrew Vanasse