Folks who have attended my cooking classes over the years know that I am adamant about making home-made vinaigrette. I have not bought a bottle of dressing in the grocery store in years.
First, what is a vinaigrette? It’s one of the mother sauces (yes, technically, it’s a sauce), generally used to dress salad greens and other cold vegetables. Specifically, it’s a temporary emulsion, meaning it will separate if the ingredients are not whisked or shaken.
Here are 8 Reasons Why You Should Make Vinaigrette at Home:
- It tastes better
- It’s easy
- It’s fast
- It doesn’t contain added sugar
- You can control the amount of salt
- It’s cheaper
- You have more variety with fewer ingredients
- It doesn’t take up space in your refrigerator (and get messy on the shelf)
- a small stainless or glass bowl
- a small whisk
- acid ( no, not anything that would harm you)
Next is the fat, in the form of oil, preferably really good extra virgin olive oil. Canola oil is neutral and won’t impart much taste and olive oil just doesn’t have enough taste. Oil gives the vinaigrette a nice “mouth feel” and of course flavor.
TIP: I keep my canola, olive oil, and extra virgin olive oils in plastic squeeze bottles for easy access and measuring.
Salt, preferably kosher or sea salt, is what gives vinaigrette (and any sauce) a spark. Without it, vinaigrette will taste flat.
Pepper gives vinaigrette a little spice, a little kick.
TIP: keep your salt and pepper out on the counter for easy use.
Pretty simple, huh? Yes, it is. What are the extras that take vinaigrette to the next level?
- Dijon mustard
Why the extras?
Shallots, herbs and spices add flavor. What you add and how much is personal preference. Dijon mustard also adds flavor, but it has a second purpose: mustard acts as an emulsifier, a bonding agent, holding the acid and the fat together.
Maille (pronounced my) is my favorite.
Shallots, a cross between onion and garlic, are classic in a vinaigrette. If you don’t have any on hand, try finely chopped red onion.
How to make a vinaigrette? Here is the classic technique (enough vinaigrette for 2 salads):
- in a small bowl, place 1 tablespoon of finely diced shallot
- add 1 tablespoon acid of choice
- add 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- pinch of kosher or sea salt
- 1 or 2 grinds of freshly ground black pepper
Give a quick stir and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes.
Drizzle into the bowl 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil (or other oil of choice) and vigorously whisk to combine; taste the vinaigrette and season with more salt if necessary. It’s helpful to place a dish towel under bowl to keep it still while you whisk.
TIP: use a piece of salad green as “tasting spoon”; just dip the leaf in the vinaigrette to check seasoning. If it tastes flat, add more acidity or salt.
That’s it. Easy, simple and delicious. Done in 30 seconds.
Did you notice how much acid and how much oil? 1 tablespoon acid to 3 tablespoons oil, a ratio of 1:3. That’s the standard. If you like a little more acidity, you can increase the acid to 1 1/2 tablespoons.
Now, how do you create variety in a vinaigrette?
- substitute coarse ground mustard or honey mustard or another flavored mustard for the Dijon
- vary the acid ~ this the easiest option ~ pick from one of the following: red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, champagne vinegar, rice wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, blood orange vinegar, and of course, balsamic vinegar or white balsamic vinegar. The choices in vinegars in today’s market are huge, so we should take advantage of the offerings.
- instead of vinegar, use a citrus, such as lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit, or white or red wine or a combination of vinegar and citrus. Nothing “pops” a vinaigrette like a squeeze of lemon.
- use a different oil: sesame, grapeseed, walnut, hazelnut
- fresh, chopped herbs: thyme, oregano, basil, dill, tarragon
- spices, such as a red pepper flakes, Tabasco, Sriracha, horseradish
- minced garlic or ginger or cheese, such as hard or grated cheeses, such as Parmesan, Pecorino, Assiago or crumbled cheeses, such as feta, goat or Gorgonzola
How long will vinaigrette last in the refrigerator? First, let me say that I like to make just enough for the number of servings I need. If you do have extra vinaigrette, put it in an airtight jar. It should last for several days. Shake to re-emulsify the ingredients.
I hope this little lesson showed you why you should make vinaigrette part of your culinary “toolbox”. Once you get used to making your own, you can say good-bye to the bottles in the fridge; think of the space you will free up, the money you will save, the lower calories, and the better tasting salads you will be serving. It’s a win-win for everyone.
ONE MORE TIP: If your vinaigrette is too thick, drizzle a few drops of warm water into it and whisk until you get the consistency you want.