Every once in a while I liked to put together a real simple, three-ingredient recipe. This one is all about those three simple ingredients: watermelon, reduced balsamic vinegar, and smoked salt. My favorite part about making this recipe is that I make both the reduced balsamic and smoked salt from scratch! But if you are too busy or lack some of the basic cooking equipment, you can probably find smoked salt and even reduced balsamic in your local grocery store. This recipe is perfect for a small dinner party as you can have your guests assemble and season their watermelon cubes themselves or serve the combo on some toothpicks and voila. This watermelon with reduced balsamic and smoked salt recipe is the perfect combination of elegance and simplicity.
Let’s talk about those basic ingredients and how to put it all together. First, watermelon is pretty self explanatory. It is important to note that all that water in the melon can create some problems if you want to make this ahead of time. You can certainly cut up the watermelon ahead of time, but it is not advisable to top the cubes with either the salt or the reduced vinegar until just minutes before you plan to eat them — the salt will pull out the water and the vinegar will seep through if left on too long. Once the melon is cubed, use the smallest melon ball scoop you have (or a careful hand with a paring knife), and make a tiny little crater to hold the reduced balsamic.
The trick to reducing balsamic vinegar is to not let it burn. My wife tried making some and didn’t keep her eye on it. Next thing she knew it started smoking and coated the pan like cement. To make it without all that trouble, simply heat the balsamic vinegar in a pan until it boils, reduce the heat to a low simmer, stir every few minutes, and cook until it’s the desired consistency. I recommend for this particular recipe to reduce the balsamic to about a 1/4 of its original volume. This should take about 20-30 minutes. Just remember to keep an eye on it and stir it occasionally to avoid burning. Want to spice it up? Try adding about 20-25 whole peppercorns while the balsamic reduces, crush the peppercorns with the back of a spoon after about 10 minutes (when they are soft), and strain when it reaches the desired thickness.
Finally, the smoked salt is really simple if you own a grill. You can make a big batch and store it in an airtight container. I like to use sweet wood chips, like apple or cherry, but I think any wood will do just fine. Add your salt to a disposable, aluminum, heat-safe baking pan. When your coals are hot, add your soaked wood chips to the fire and once you see smoke billowing out of the chimney, add your baking pan of salt to the cool side of your grill. You can definitely use a gas grill, just follow your manufacturer’s directions. It should take about an hour to properly smoke the salt and when you are all done the salt will have a wonderfully smoky scent and light taste. Don’t expect a huge smoky punch in your face. If you want more smoke, well, you have to smoke it longer and need to add a second round of wood chips once the original batch is all gone.
Try this simple watermelon with reduced balsamic and smoked salt recipe next time you want to try something unique. It’s a great small party appetizer and super easy to make. You can serve it with fresh herbs like chives or basil and enjoy the pop of flavor.
- ½ Watermelon, husk removed
- 1 Cup balsamic vinegar
- 20 black peppercorns (optional)
- 1 cup kosher or sea salt
- 2 cup wood chips (apple, cherry, etc.)
- 2 cups water
- ½ chimney of charcoal (if not using gas)
- Cut the watermelon into 1-inch cubes and use a small melon ball scoop or paring knife to cut a small crater into the top of the cubes.
- Add the vinegar to a small pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes or until desired thickness. Be sure to stir throughout process to prevent it from burning. Add black peppercorns at the start of cooking, if desired, and crush with the back of a spoon after 10 minutes.
- Let the reduced vinegar cool and strain if you added pepper. Store covered in the refrigerator.
- Soak the wood chips in water for at least 1 hour.
- Add the salt to an aluminum or grill safe cooking pan. Add charcoal to your chimney starter and when the charcoal is hot (if using gas, heat until about 350 degrees) empty the coals onto one side of your grill. Use the side by the air vent.
- Strain the wood chips and place in an aluminum foil pouch. Poke with holes. Add the pouch to the charcoal, close the lid, and when you see smoke coming out the chimney/air vent, add the salt inside the disposable cooking pan to the cool side of the grill. Be sure to leave the grill closed and open the vents.
- Cook for about 1 hour. Your salt will likely change color!
- Store in an air-tight container
- Add a small amount of reduced vinegar to the crater in the watermelon and a small dash of smoked salt. Serve immediately.