The French term 'vinaigrette' simply means a French dressing made from oil and vinegar. The tricky part, is that a vinaigrette dressing is a suspension, or an emulsion, of two liquids that don't want to blend together and stay mixed. The vinegar forms tiny droplets suspended within the oil creating a thick, creamy, glossy dressing with unique properties.
These dressings can be unstable as the vinegar droplets tend to coalesce and separate out from the vinegar. Similarly the dressing may solidify when a homemade vinaigrette dressing is refrigerated.
It sounds so simple, but making a good vinaigrette is one of the first tasks given to chefs during their apprenticeships.
Despite these issues, vinaigrettes can be made at home using the recipes and tips described in this article.
Commercial salad dressings are a poor substitute for homemade dressings, because they contain excess sugar and lots of chemicals such as emulsifiers, stabilizers, preservatives, artificial colors and flavors.
Prepared dressings also have a thick, sticky and soggy texture that ruins a lovely, freshly prepared salad.
A huge variety of oils can also be used including grape seed oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, olive oil and soybean oil. Some of the key tips are:
► The biggest mistake people make is to use the finest quality, pure extra virgin olive oil. Unfortunately virgin olive oil is too strong for vinaigrette. It will often solidify when stored in the refrigerator.
The best option is to use a 1:1 mixture of extra virgin olive oil with a light olive oil or a good quality nut or seed oils such as grape seed, avocado, peanut, walnut or hazelnut oil. The nut oils impart a lovely taste to the dressing, while grape seed and rice bran oils have a neutral taste.
Don't use canola or general purpose vegetable oils for dressings. Using a mixed oil and diluting the extra virgin olive oil will ensure the vinaigrette will not solidify in the refrigerator.
► Just like the oil, the vinegar chosen is also critical. Use a good quality white vinegar, or a lighter vinegar such as apple cider, tarragon, rice or some other lighter style vinegar.
Don't use malt or dark vinegars, which are simply too strong and will throughout overpower and ruin the dressing. Balsamic vinegar is on the borderline. It is delicious, but it has strong taste and may not suit most using such as salad dressings.
Balsamic vinegar dressings are well suited to simple tomato-based fresh salads. Mix with lighter vinegars for general use. You can use lemon juice or other citrus juice to replace some of all of the vinegar.
► Vinaigrettes can be made with 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar, but this ratio can be changed depending on the taste and texture you want (more liquid). Many recipes use a 1:1 ratio. Try varying the amount to see what works best with the other ingredients you are using.
Usually it is best to add seasonings such as, salt, sugar, herbs and spices to the vinegar before whisking or shaking to suspend them in the oil. The seasonings are dissolved in the vinegar and distributed evenly through the vinaigrette.
► Instead of whisking to mix the vinaigrettes you can just shake them vigorously in a container such as jar.You can store the mixture in the container and shake again just before using.
► Many vinaigrettes are made with a teaspoon of Dijon mustard. This is important, not only to add flavor, but it acts as a natural emulsifier agent to help keep the vinegar and oil as an emulsion.
► For best results, all your ingredients should be at room temperature when you begin. The cooler the oil, the more difficult it is to make an emulsion.
► Honey is a great addition to a vinaigrette, adding sweetness to balance the acid taste of the vinegar or citrus juice. But the honey also helps maintain the emulsion for longer.
Equipment you need includes:
Peel the clove of garlic, chop it very finely and add to the mustard, salt and pepper in a bowl, and mix gently. Add 200 ml of vinegar into which the seasonings, herbs and spices are dissolved. Whisk to combine all the ingredients. Then start gradually adding the 600 ml of oil while continuing to mix. When all the oil is added, whisk strongly to emulsify, but do not over whisk it. The classic appearance of a good vinaigrette is layers of ingredients in a jar, so don't let this appearance concern you. Gentle shaking or stirring the content of dressing will quickly emulsify it once again before serving.
Transfer the vinaigrette to a glass jar and store in the refrigerator. The dressing will last about two weeks in the fridge. You can simply make a smaller quantity by halving the ingredients. Keep the oil to vinegar ratio at 3:1, tough 2:1 is recommended for some recipes.
Put the mustard, salt and honey into a glass jar, and combine well to form a thin paste. Add the vinegar and stir well to combine using a wooden spoon. Add the oils and screw the lid on the jar to seal tightly. Shake until the vinegar and oil form an emulsion. Store in the fridge. Shake again before each serving.