As with most good food, you must start with good quality ingredients. This is equally true for even something as simple as a salad dressing, which a vinaigrette is as simple as it gets. Vinaigrettes are an emulsion of 3 parts vegetable oil (usually olive oil) and 1 part acid (usually vinegar or acidic fruit juice), seasoning, and sometimes other flavourings. The oil is the base to carry the flavour in a vinaigrette, so it is best to use a neutral oil, or a quality oil such as extra-virgin olive oil. Low quality oils or highly flavoured oils can have a negative effect on the finished salad dressing, so choosing a good oil is important. Acid is used for the base flavour in the vinaigrette, the most common are white wine vinegar or lemon juice, but vinegars such as apple cider, sherry or balsamic, and fruit such as limes and oranges, are also quite common. Again choose good quality vinegar or fruit.
When thinking of adding other flavours, other than just basic seasoning to a vinaigrette, it is best to remember that the goal of a good dressing is to create a balance of flavours that enhances the natural flavours already in the salad and not assault the taste buds with too much complexity. Common additions to the basic vinaigrette are minced shallots, Dijon mustard, chopped garlic, herbs, pickles and spices.
- 6 tbsp olive oil (extra virgin if possible)
- 2 tbsp acid (e.g white wine vinegar)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Optional: To my everyday vinaigrette, I add half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Add the ingredients to a mixing bowl and whisk until you achieve a creamy emulsion. Pour over your salad, mix the salad leaves to coat thoroughly with the dressing and enjoy.
Alternatively you can use a bottle or a jar to mix larger quantities to keep for another time. Add the ingredients to your bottle or jar, Secure the lid and shake vigorously to make the emulsion. The ingredients will settle out and separate over time but you can easily make the emulsion again by just shaking. The only problem with a bottle or jar is that they do tend to drip when pouring and they may not look that great on your dinning table. I bought a non-drip salad shaker, which is not only great for mixing larger quantities of salad dressing, but it looks good on the table and best of all it doesn’t drip.
It is so easy and quick to make your own vinaigrette salad dressings, you’ll never need to buy another one again. Try experimenting with different oils, vinegars or acidic fruit juices to see how these affect the flavours already in your salad. Also try adding additions such as honey, cayenne, coriander seeds, grated Parmesan, crumbled Roquefort, chopped tomatoes, fennel, etc, etc.
Tip: As well as salad dressing, vinaigrettes made great marinades.