For this post, I wanted to focus much more on the technique than any particular recipe. In all honesty, vinaigrette may be one of the most versatile things you can make and focusing on a single recipe is too narrow. Vinaigrettes are a great way to experiment with flavors and do it in a way that doesn’t weigh down a dish.
The term “vinaigrette” also seems to be used a lot to describe any kind of light sauce or dressing. While a good way to get that point across, its not really accurate and I want to highlight the true vinaigrette with this post. Don’t get me wrong, many “vinaigrettes” out there are great, but there is a technique to be mastered here that should be understood.
As far as applications, you can use vinaigrettes for just about anything. Personally, I have used them for marinades, salad dressings, slaws, pastas, just to name a few. The key to vinaigrettes is to match the flavors to the intent of the meal. For a meat marinade, I tend to use bolder flavors like apple cider vinegar, peppers, or fruit. On the other hand, for something like a light salad go a little more subtle with citrus, champagne vinegar, and bright herbs.
Basics of Vinaigrettes
At its core, a vinaigrette is basically just oil and vinegar/acid in an emulsion (going back to grade school: a combination of two distinct ingredients). Seems pretty simple but it’s really not a clear cut as that. Traditionally, a vinaigrette has 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. The technique aspects of vinaigrettes really come down to how you actually combine those two ingredients though.
If you just pour oil and vinegar together, you end up with a grade school science experiment. You have probably seen this in bread dips or bottled dressings. The two separate because, in reality, they just don’t like to mix and they need to be forced. The first key to creating a vinaigrette is to always pour the oil into the vinegar, not the other way around. Second is how you actually do the combining.
There are two approaches to this: one more classic, the other a bit of a hack. The classic approach is to whisk the vinegar vigorously while pouring the oil in. This is labor intensive and runs the risk of making a bit of a mess if you knock something over. The other option is to only lightly stir the vinegar while adding the oil and then shaking the combination.
More often than not, I end up shaking the mixture to make sure it is well combined. I have found that only having two hands makes the old school method a little tough to do alone. Even with Rob’s help, it just ends up being tricky.
Advanced Vinaigrette Making
Now that we have discussed the basics, there is another thing to remember about vinaigrettes. Namely, that vinaigrettes will separate if left alone for long enough. Remember, oil and vinegar do not like each other and all the work put into making them combine is only temporary. And when I say temporary, the separation can occur in minutes. There are tricks to combat this via addition of an emulsifier.
An emulsifier helps to stabilize the emulsion so that it doesn’t separate so quickly. Personally, my favorite is dijon mustard. It adds a great flavor, gos with almost anything, and is almost always available in my kitchen. Other options include egg whites or mayo and honey. Personally, I understand that egg whites/mayo works really well; however, I just don’t find that it works as well as a flavor ingredient. Plus they aren’t as healthy and, if you are vegan, that would ruin that.
Keep in mind that emulsifier, may not completely prevent separation. Its still always best to use a vinaigrette as quickly as possible so that the ingredients are well combined when eating. Emulsifiers are good for marinades too as they help keep all of the flavors even. Marinading is another reason I am not a fan of egg based emulsifiers; the results could get a little strange if roasted or grilled. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want that eggy texture on a tenderloin or flank steak.
The one exception I found to my general preference to avoid eggs as an emulsifier is Caesar Salad Dressing. Most recipes call for either egg or mayo, which is required to give it that tangy taste it is so well know for. It also gives it a really good shelf stability; however, given that it is egg based don’t sit on it too long.
As I said earlier, vinaigrette is such a versatile ingredient. You can use it on anything from a salad to steak and it works. You really can’t say that for many things. One of my favorite uses is on pasta salad and to make souvlaki. There are plenty of other uses out there, one my favorites is Ina Garten’s Mustard Marinated Flank Steak. It’s a perfect summer treat that feels light and has a great flavor.
Below are a few of my favorite vinaigrette flavor combinations. This is by no means an exhaustive list, you will find others perusing recipes on the blog.
- 1.5 Oz Champagne Vinegar
- 0.5 Oz Lemon Juice
- 1/2 Shallot minced
- 6 Oz Olive Oil
- 1/2 Tbs Dijon
- 2 Thyme Springs leaves stripped
- 1/2 Tsp Fennel Seed cracked
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1 Oz Tequila
- 1 Oz Lime Juice
- 1 Lime Zested
- 1/2 Jalapeno finely diced
- 2 Tbs Peach Marmalade
- 1 Tbs Cilantro minced
- 2 Garlic Cloves minced
- 6 oz Avocado Oil can sub in other oil with high smoke point
- 1 Oz Lemon Juice
- 1 Oz Sherry Vinegar or red wine vinegar
- 1/2 Tbs Oregano
- 1/2 Tbs Mint minced
- 1/2 Tbs Fennel Seed
- 1 Lemon zested
- 2 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1/2 Tbs Honey
- 6 oz Olive oil
- Salt & Pepper to taste