How To Make The Perfect Vinaigrette
When the temperature turns north of 80° F our desire for light and refreshing meals increase exponentially. Vinaigrettes are a perfect method to deliver the right balance of savory and citrus and when you get it right it elevates the most simple salad to greatness.
Vinaigrettes are a temporary emulsion at best. You see, oil and vinegar don’t mix. I am confident that you have seen this. You need to shake up that bottle of salad dressing and the two parts come together. However, when you set it down in just seconds you can see the two parts start to separate again, leaving you with the oil on top and the vinegar at the bottom.
Now, you might ask if there is a permanent emulsion out there. Well, there is and it’s is called mayonnaise. However, how to make the best homemade mayonnaise is a blog post for another time. I would like to share a few tips and tricks to help you turn out perfect vinaigrettes every time.
The Basics of Vinaigrettes
It’s helpful that you remember the basic formula for vinaigrettes. Well, it’s really a ratio. The perfect ratio is 3 to 1. Three parts oil to one part vinegar. So, as long as you stick to this guiding rule, you won’t need to download any vinaigrette recipe again! Just stick to the basic ratio and everything will be all right.
I would suggest there is also a better way to taste test your vinaigrette and it’s not a spoon. I wish this idea was mine, and I cannot recall the exact source. However, if you dip a piece of lettuce in, shake off any excess dressing and then take a taste. This process will give you a better idea of how your dressing will taste in your salad vs. the straight method.
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The journey down your local mega-mart aisle can be a little intimidating, to say the least. The average mega-mart aisle carries 20-40 different oils. Here’s what you need to know: any oils labeled “vegetable oil” or “salad oil” are just fine for you to make a basic vinaigrette. You could also use any oil that is light and has a neutral flavor like safflower, canola, or soybean oil. One of the most common oils to use is olive oil. If you choose to use olive oil, you should use the best stuff you can afford. Make sure it’s extra virgin. The cheaper or more light varieties are items you should stay away from.
Less expensive olive oils will tend to bring an unwanted bitter taste as well not give you the cleaner taste of an extra virgin will bring you. Trust me the better you can afford, the better the results. You can save the cheaper, refined oils for cooking.
Now, the next question is which types of vinegar to use. Each vinegar has different strengths and the ratio may need to be adjusted slightly. You may also want a more tart dressing at times or a more mild version. However, I always advise still sticking the basic 3:1 ratio.
White vinegar is the most neutral flavored vinegar and as a result, this doesn’t make a very compelling vinaigrette. If you’re still trying to get your feet wet and not go too heavy in the vinegar you can at the very least use a white wine vinegar. However, if you want to take a walk on the more adventurous side, I would suggest specialty types of vinegar like balsamic, raspberry, or sherry.
Let’s talk about a few of my favorites. Cider vinegar is made from apples and tends to lend a more fruity taste to your vinaigrette. Balsamic vinegar tends to be aged and treated in wood casks and as a result is very dark, has turned sweet, and can be used in so many applications.
Didn’t we just talk about the ratio between oil and vinegar? Yes, we did. However, citrus juices can add a nice component to a vinaigrette. Juice is generally used to enhance the vinaigrette. You can play around with the amount of vinegar and juices, but it is my experience that juices like lemon are not meant to replace the vinegar but to add to and compliment the flavor.
Don’t stop at lemon. You can use different kinds of juices. Citrus fruits are the most common because they contain a high acid content. If you use orange juice, you will find it adds a nice sweetness instead of a tart flavor.
You don’t need to go crazy in the seasoning department. Just a little bit of kosher salt or pepper. However, the addition of some minced garlic, onion, shallots and some herbs can often make the day.
I also consider honey a flavoring and is a home-run-hitter because it adds such a nice balance to the tartness of the vinegar or any citrus you might add. Honey also serves as a separate champion because it keeps the emulsion together longer. I have found that a vinaigrette that has honey in it will remain mixed for double the time that a standard vinaigrette does. Certainly, longer than your dinner party as your guests would be eating their salad.
The absolute fool-proof way (and the easiest) is to combine the oil and vinegar in a blender. If you don’t have a blender, you could combine everything in a tumbler glass or a stainless steel bowl and just whisk the ingredients together. Do not use an aluminum bowl! The acid from the vinegar will react with the aluminum and you will feel like you just licked a metal can.
Once you have the dressing all mixed up, it’s best to let the flavors marry for a while, especially when you have gone beyond the basic vinaigrette and are introducing the additional ingredients mentioned above (minced onion, garlic, herbs etc). In a perfect world, you’d be preparing the vinaigrette in advance of the time needed and allow it to sit for 1 to 3 hours.
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