My very closest friend, Mike and I have worked together at every single job we’ve each had since we were 18 years old. We started out as volunteers at an ambulance squad then both became ER techs at the same hospital. Next we both got hired at the municipal ambulance service where we would work together as partners for over 10 years. Sadly, about a year and a half ago we actually took separate routes in our lives for the first time in our 16 year friendship. He became a federal law enforcement officer while I decided to become a (mostly) stay at home mom, working only a few times a month. Fortunately, even though life has taken us in different directions, he’s remained a paramedic as well and we still get to work together occasionally.
When you work in a truck all day for a 12 hour shift a lot of your day is spent talking about food. Where should we eat breakfast? Should we check out that new place that just opened? Did you bring lunch or are you buying? And so on and so forth. You also get to know a lot about a person when it’s just the two of you all day long for 50-60 hours a week. (No, that’s not a typo… No one who works in the emergency medicine field gets to work a 40 hour work week. Everyone works at least 2 jobs and tops out somewhere around 60 hours a week because we’re so grossly underpaid but that’s a rant for another time.)
Back to my point, when you’re in a truck all day you learn a lot about another person and one of the many things Mike and I have in common is a love of good food. We both appreciate exceptional foods, enjoy cooking and trying new things. A lot of our conversations consist of talking about what we’ve cooked lately or recipes we want to make from latest issue of Gourmet or Bon Appetit. So on many an occasion we bring each other food that we made so the other can try it.
While working together recently we were talking with another one of our co-workers about a picture of strawberries that I had taken. She had been saying how delicious they looked and she wanted to drizzle them with a balsamic reduction. Right then, it hit me! A memory came flooding back to me. I distinctly remembered one day when Mike had brought to work a balsamic caramel sauce that he had made. At first I was leery of it because the thought of vinegar in my caramel was a little “if-y” to me. But I gave it a try and it was unlike any caramel sauce I had ever had. Smooth, buttery with a surprisingly pleasing acidity to it that was nothing but perfection.
After our discussion I decided I needed to have some of that mouth-watering caramel sauce again. I found out that he had used a Michael Chiarello recipe so I set out to find it which wasn’t difficult at all. As I set about making the caramel I learned a valuable lesson that I will pass on to you now so that you don’t make the same mistake if you haven’t made caramel before. When it reaches a light golden color (like this)
take it off the heat, continue to swirl the pan for a bit as the color darkens. (It will end up looking like this.)
Do not leave it on the heat until you get the darker golden color that you associate with caramel because just a few more seconds later as you remove the pan from the heat you will get this:
This is not the desired color. As you can see I really burned my first batch of caramel sauce. It was awful!
Fortunately, caramel sauce is so very quick and easy to make that 5 minutes later I had a second batch going and it turned out perfectly. It was a gigantic success. I took my balsamic caramel sauce to a family dinner at my father’s house. We drizzled it over some vanilla bean ice cream and it was pure heaven! I also have to tell you that if you dip plum, sweet strawberries into this balsamic caramel that it too is pure bliss.
Balsamic Caramel Sauce Slightly adapted from Michael Chiarello
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp water, plus more for brushing
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp salt
– Bring cream just to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and just keep warm.
– In a large high-sided saucepan over medium-high heat, dissolve the sugar with 2 tablespoons of water. As the mixture begins to bubble, watch for crystals developing along the edges of the pan just above the liquid. Using a pastry brush dipped in water, brush the inside of the pan, just above the crystals so the water drips down and dissolves the crystals back into the liquid.
– As the sugar begins to brown, swirl the pan so the sugar cooks evenly.
– Continue to cook until the sugar is a dark golden brown, about 8-9 minutes total.
– Remove the pan from the heat. Slowly add the cream just a few tablespoons at a time. The mixture will bubble up dramatically! (This is normal, thus the need for a high-sided saucepan.)
– Once all the cream has been added, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the vinegar, lemon juice and salt, mix well.
– Pour into a heatproof bowl.
** This sauce can be made several weeks ahead, covered with plastic and stored at room temperature or refrigerated.**