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I’m baaack! 2018. Wow. The holidays always come and go so fast! Which is why I took a little break from the demands of writing. It’s good for the soul, I think, to slow down sometimes. I took the opportunity to read, relax, and do some maintenance work to the site I’d been putting off. But now I’m refreshed and ready to go for The Flour Handprint’s first full year up and running!
Now typically I’m not a resolution maker, but after a holiday season of rich decadent desserts and far too much takeout, my husband and I decided to refocus on balancing nutrition in our diet. So I’m starting the year off with a useful, and delicious guide of: The Vinaigrette. Simple, soooo easy to make, and amazingly diverse in flavors and possibilities. I know, however, that many, many people don’t know just how awesome, and easy, a vinaigrette can be. So I’m starting the year with a healthy, flavor filled post – How to Make Vinaigrette: A complete Guide.
How to Make Vinaigrette Basics: Necessary Ingredients & Ratio
To learn how to make vinaigrette, you really only need to know three things.
- The Basic Components: If you want to go simple, and I mean really simple, classic vinaigrette, all you really need is oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. That’s it. At it’s core, a vinaigrette is just a mixture of vinegar and oil, with some flavor added to it. Of course, it can go far, far beyond this, with variations that stretch as far as your imagination is willing.
- The Basic Ratio: To make the really simple vinaigrette all you need to know is the ratio of vinegar to oil, it’s a very easy to remember 1:3 ration. 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil. For example, for a cup of vinaigrette, you’d used 1/3 cup of vinegar and 2/3 cup of oil. Needless to say, if you ever get this backwards, you’re taste buds will quickly let you know. Trust me.
- Technique: Add salt, pepper, (+ other flavoring agents) and vinegar to a bowl, then stream in the oil while whisking constantly. That’s really it. Of course, there is the question of whether you want an emulsified vinaigrette, but more on that in a bit.
Despite the beautiful simplicity of a classic vinaigrette, it can go sooo far beyond this. With different vinegar and oil types, and lots of ways to add in extra flavor, you really can create a vinaigrette for any type of salad. It can even go beyond salad! Ever drizzled a lemon dill vinaigrette over a piece of crispy skinned fish? No? You should! From marinades to a finishing sauce, once you know how to make vinaigrette, you’ll be whipping them up all the time.
The Reliable Favorites: Oil & Vinegar
But I’m getting ahead of myself, before we delve into the world of flavored oils, let’s talk about how to make delicious and different vinaigrette’s with just the basics.
If I had to pick only two oils to keep in my pantry, these would be the ones. Canola oil is a neutral flavored oil and good for many cooking tasks. Light, and without too much flavor of it’s own, it lets the other ingredients you choose shine. Extra Virgin Olive Oil is less neutral, but I’d say the oil of choice for vinaigrette making. It’s delicious enough to drizzle over salads on its own, and added to a vinegar it provides a richer flavor to the end result. Most of the time, I mix the two, it not only gives me the benefits of both, but it’s economical. Canola oil is significantly cheaper than a good olive oil.
Now on to the fun part, picking you vinegar. I’m a really big fan of vinaigrettes for one really simple reason: diversity. Of the vinegars pictured above, there really isn’t a wrong choice. Really. By stocking my pantry with different vinegars and oils, I’ve created dozens of variations I could make.
Having a teriyaki chicken night? Pair a chopped salad of carrots, celery, cabbage, and green onions with a light rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and honey vinaigrette. Going for the classic romaine and tomato salad? Maybe a light berry salad? Either the red wine or the white wine vinegars create a beautiful, lightly tangy vinaigrette. Adding apples, pears, or other fruits to your greens? Apple cider vinegar has the apple sweetness that will round out the salad. And finally, my go to and probably favorite, a classic balsamic vinaigrette can dress up light to dark greens, and pairs with tomatoes and cheeses beautifully.
Flavoring Your Vinaigrette: Fresh Ingredients
When it comes to adding flavor to your vinaigrettes, there are a few ways to approach it. The beauty of the vinaigrette is the ability to suit it to your particular meal. I often begin with what I’m serving for dinner and what flavors would complement it. From there, I usually determine the additions I want to use, not the oil and vinegar. Once I’ve determined my add ins, lemon and basil, raspberries and honey, garlic and dijon, I then move to choosing the most suitable vinegar to draw out those flavors best.
You can of course, start the other way, building from your vinegar choice, to your add ins, and determining your salad from there. There really isn’t a right or best way, it’s up to you!
Let’s talk about flavoring options. With fresh ingredients alone there are already tons of ways to flavor a vinaigrette. While salt is fairly standard, and I recommend as a an ingredient in any homemade dressing, onion, shallot, garlic, and fresh cracked pepper are classics that always work well, with pretty much any vinegar choice.
Fresh herbs also bring a beautiful flavor to your vinaigrettes, chopped fine and mixed in. While I always have rosemary and thyme in my fridge, mint, basil, dill, ginger, and chives are also wonderful choices.
Fruit juices and zests are another excellent choice, and often beautiful when paired with both herbs and the members of the allium family (onions, garlic, etc). Fresh citrus such as lemons or limes deliver beautiful tang, and using a bit of zest rounds out the sour notes of the juice. Oranges bring both tang and sweetness, I definitely recommend giving them a try. Finally, experiment with other fruity options. Pomagranate juice is fantastic and tangy, apple juice is sweet and rounded, or try fresh or frozen berries or cherries. Simply mash the berries to release their juices, and add vinegar. Keep in mind that citrus hits your palate similarly to vinegar so reduce the vinegar accordingly to balance out the flavors.
Flavoring Your Vinaigrette: Pantry & Fridge Ingredients
Okay, so you want to whip up a vinaigrette for tonight’s dinner, but you don’t have any citrus, or any fresh herbs. Good new is, flavor is still firmly within reach. I’m willing to bet your fridge and pantry are stocked with at least a few killer options.
Mustard is an old standby for vinaigrette, dijon in particular, but don’t be afraid to experiment with different kinds. Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and capers have a wonderful salty bite that can enhance your vinaigrette when paired with a complementary vinegar. Just like the citrus, adding a salty component will likely mean you’ll want to reduce the salt you add in. You can always add more, but it can’t be taken out.
Honey is a go to for my vinaigrettes especially when I’m using tangy, sour flavors. Just a squeeze balances out fruit or citrus forward vinaigrettes without making it too sweet. If honey isn’t in your pantry, go for white sugar or agave for sweetness.
Feeling spicy? Add some kick to your vinaigrette with horseradish or hot sauce. A spinach, shrimp, and carrot salad would be perfect with a siracha kick. Remember that hot sauces often contain vinegar, a little goes a long way here.
Going Gourmet: Experiment with New Oil & Vinegar Flavors
Once you’ve mastered how to make vinaigrette, and exhausted your pantry staples, experimenting with new and exotic oils and vinegars can be fun. As with any addition, balance is key, so start on a small scale and add more as necessary.
Just a few examples from my personal pantry, infused olive oils are a fun way to add flavor without needed extra additions. Similarly gourmet vinegar is fun and often really delicious even beyond the vinaigrette. I’ve used them in glazes, drizzles, and dips for bread. Finding ones you like is a fun process, especially if you can taste them prior to purchase.
Infused olives oils and gourmet vinegar can often be found at higher end grocery stores like Whole Foods or Nugget Market, but I have also found them at farmers markets or specialty shops. They are worth the extra stop if available to you. If you live in the Easy Bay area of California, I love Amphora Nueva. They’ll guide you through pairings and tastings at no charge. If you don’t live nearby, and don’t have a local shop, Amphora Nueva will ship to you, and I personally recommend their products.
How to Make Vinaigrette: Mixing Methods – Un-Emulsified & Emulsified
There are actually two types of vinaigrette, both of which you have likely seen. First there is the Un-Emulsified type. Basically, the oil and the vinegar are doing what they naturally want to do, staying separate. The separation you see in a store bought bottle of dressing is because oil and vinegar just don’t like to mix. With a little vigorous shaking, they come together long enough to enjoy on your salad.
While an un-emulsified vinaigrette is completely okay, and still very delicious, there is a way to break the bonds between oil and vinegar and create a creamier vinaigrette. Personally, I prefer it this way: the emulsified vinaigrette. Flavoring components such as garlic or mustard aid this process, by assisting the oil and vinegar blending for a longer lasting bond. You can also use a bit of fat to accomplish this, with an egg yolk, or a bit of chicken stock.
It is possible to do this by hand you’re poor wrist will thank you if you can use a blender for the task. I use my immersion stick blender and it does the job just fine. All you have to do is whisk the oil and vinegar fast enough to break down the bonds keeping them apart. Once you do, they will come together into a thicker, creamier dressing.
Be cautious when using a machine though, especially if you’ve decided to utilize an egg yolk. Too fast a speed will result in a very thick, mayonnaise like sauce. Keep your blender on it’s lowest speed. If using a stick blender like myself, I find it easiest to simply pulse after adding half my oil, and then again after I’ve added the rest. Continue to pulse until the consistency is to your liking. You can also use the mason jar approach: add all your ingredients to the jar and shake like mad!
How to Make Vinaigrette: A Complete Guide
I hope this complete guide to how to make, flavor, and pair a vinaigrette has been useful to you. Once you start, you’ll find purchasing store bought dressings unnecessary. Vinegar and oil have a decent shelf life, and vinegar goes a long way! Purchasing new flavors in small amounts can be a fun way to experiment with vinaigrettes without the expense. Plus, vinegar and oils can be used in other cooking tasks, making the investment practical too. Start testing out flavors and you’ll soon discover your favorite ratios and combinations. Salads don’t have to be standard or boring, healthy eating actually can be exciting!
Have I left something out? Left a question unanswered? Let me know and I’ll be sure to find the answer! Happy vinaigrette making!