The Perfect Vinaigrette Recipe (that's Not Really a Recipe at All)


What better accompaniment is there to a perfect salad than a perfect vinaigrette recipe to top it off? Just the right combination of bright, acidic and flavorful, a vinaigrette lends the punch you need to whatever raw vegetables, meats and cheeses you've chosen to assemble on your plate.

Making a vinaigrette is often less of a recipe and more like guidelines. Once you've learned the proportions and the method, a perfect vinaigrette is in your reach!

1. Proportions

The proportions of different ingredients in a vinaigrette recipe are what help it to emulsify properly and have good flavor. A vinaigrette has three required ingredients, with other ingredients as optional possibilities -- we'll get to that later. When it comes to the triumvirate of a vinaigrette, however, proportion is key.

Some swear by the two parts olive oil to one part vinegar proportion. While I'm sure that's pleasing to certain palates, I've never used it. I prefer a vinaigrette with a bit more tang, so I go for a 2/3 vinegar to 1/3 oil combination. Either one works well, so be sure to taste as you go to see which one you prefer.

The "vinegar" can actually be a combination of citrus juice and vinegar, with cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine vinegar, sherry vinegar, champagne vinegar and rice vinegar all being common options. Add homemade fruit vinegar or infused vinegar.

As for the oil, one of the most common is olive oil, but flavored oils like walnut oil or hazelnut oil, infused oils like lemon oil, or milder oils like grapeseed oil will all do the job as well. You can also make this a platform to get your essential fatty acids by using flax or hemp oil (just make sure the dressing is never going to be heated up as that will destroy the oil).

The last element of the triumvirate is the emulsifying agent. This is often mustard but could also be organic egg yolk -- be sure to coddle it first if you're feeding children. The amount of emulsifying agent should be about 1/3 the amount of oil.

2. The Method

The method for making a perfect, unbroken vinaigrette is actually relatively simple. The first step is to combine the emulsifying agent with the vinegar until you have a smooth liquid. You can also add a pinch of sugar at this point to offset the acidity of the vinegar, if you wish.

Next, start whisking. Drizzle the oil in lightly, stopping whenever it takes a bit longer to emulsify in to whisk vigorously. The more oil you've added, the more quickly you'll be able to emulsify in the rest.

Once you've emulsified all of the oil into the vinaigrette, you can season it with salt and other herbs and spices.

3. The Flavorings

When it comes to flavoring your vinaigrette, the sky's pretty much the limit. Fresh or dried herbs and spices are always good additions. Flavorings should be added to the finished vinaigrette. Here are a few combinations to get you started:

1. Garlic-Citrus Vinaigrette
Vinegar: equal parts lemon, lime and orange juices and rice vinegar
Oil: grapeseed oil
Emulsifier: Dijon mustard
Flavoring: minced garlic

2. French-Style Shallot Vinaigrette
Vinegar: sherry vinegar
Oil: olive oil
Emulsifier: grainy mustard
Flavoring: minced shallot

3. Walnut Vinaigrette
Vinegar: red wine vinegar
Oil: walnut oil
Emulsifier: egg yolk
Flavoring: none, but add some whole or crushed walnuts to the salad

4. Balsamic Vinaigrette
Vinegar: balsamic vinegar
Oil: olive oil
Emulsifier: Dijon mustard
Flavoring: Fresh thyme and minced shallots

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