Salt Sear Savor

🥗 No Regrets on Your Vinaigrettes

Published almost 3 years ago • 4 min read

I sent this issue on vinaigrettes about one year ago. And since it’s summer and we finally have lots of produce here in Colorado, I wanted to update it. Expect some tweaks, a new section, and new variations to try! Enjoy!

🥗 No Regrets on Your Vinaigrettes

Vinaigrettes are the perfect concoction of flavor.

The combination of fat and acid in one sauce is a beautiful thing. The oil adds a luxurious, satisfying element to your food. Then the acid creates brightness, contrasting the oil and the food around it… And if I made the vinaigrette, it probably makes you pucker too. But who doesn’t love a good puckering? 💋

Yet we still buy vinaigrettes at the store. And I’m just as guilty.

But no more.

Vinaigrettes are simple to throw together with whatever you have in your pantry. They are versatile enough so that you never get bored. And they are infinitely better than something you can find at the grocery store.

We’ve got no excuses people!

Anatomy of a Vinaigrette 🦴🧠🦵

The classic French vinaigrette is basically extra virgin olive oil and white wine vinegar whisked together with a little bit of salt and pepper. Simple as that. But maybe a little basic. So I include a couple of other components in my vinaigrettes.

Aromatics: Think garlic, shallot, or even ginger. Something with a strong flavor that will diffuse throughout your vinaigrette. Even pungent herbs or whole spices could work.

Acid: Think vinegar or citrus juice. Acid is the hidden ingredient for making everything more delicious. It brightens flavors, making them taste even more interesting.

Emulsifier: Think mayo, mustard, or honey. Emulsifiers are the glue that holds a vinaigrette together since oil and vinegar don’t get along. You just need a little bit.

Fat: Think olive oil. Samin Nosrat said it best, “Put simply, fat carries flavor”. You need fat in a vinaigrette to enhance the flavor of the aromatics and the food you mix it with.

Salt: Think salt 😉. We need it everywhere in our cooking. Simple as that.

Now that we’ve got the basic anatomy of a vinaigrette. Let’s talk about crafting one.

Steps to a Great Vinaigrette

  1. Finely mince your aromatics. This will release their flavor. Let’s say a clove of garlic for funsies.
  2. Then steep your aromatics in some form of acid for about 10 minutes. Let’s say 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Macerating the aromatics will soften their sharp flavor.
  3. Throw in a good pinch of salt and a spoonful of an emulsifier, like dijon.
  4. Add your oil. But here’s the trick. Do it ever so slowly while you continuously whisk the dressing. This will help emulsify the concoction, turning your vinaigrette ever so creamy.

Boom💥. And there’s your basic vinaigrette. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks at least.

Okay, But in What Proportions?

There is a formula for vinaigrettes! Remember the classic French vinaigrette? It’s a basic ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part acid. BUT here’s the thing. It’s only a starting point. Your tongue should ultimately decide. 👅

Why? Well, the right ratio depends on your ingredients. Citrus juice is more subtle than straight vinegar. The sweetness in rice wine vinegar makes it milder too. In those instances, your ratio will probably be closer to 2-to-1. But even then, it’s not a hard, fast rule. You might have grabbed a tarter lemon. Or maybe you like more acid in your vinaigrettes like I do. 🤷‍♂️

So taste along the way.

What about emulsifiers? Use a ⅓ of the amount you use for your acid. So if you add a tablespoon of vinegar, try a teaspoon of mustard.

And aromatics? That just depends. If you’re making enough vinaigrette for a salad for 4 people, you’re probably looking at 3 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of acid. So one small shallot or a garlic clove is probably all you need. Remember you can always add more!

And at the end of the day, just start somewhere. And then taste! If it doesn’t taste AMAZING, tweak it until it does. My guess is you probably need more acid or another pinch of salt.

Vinaigrette Variations

When trying out new flavors in a vinaigrette, consider the basic anatomy. As long as you check all the boxes, go crazy!

Here are a few ideas:

  • Citrus: Use a mix of lemon, lime, and orange juice as your acid. Skip the typical aromatics like garlic or shallot and use the zest of all three citruses instead. A touch of honey is a great emulsifier here. Just remember the orange juice is sweet so you probably don’t need a ton.
  • Ginger Sesame: Soak grated ginger and minced scallions in rice wine vinegar. Add a touch of tahini as your emulsifier. Then use a mix of sesame and vegetable oil since sesame oil is pretty potent! You could also swap the salt for a dash of soy sauce.
  • Herb: Skip the typical aromatics and use finely chopped herbs instead. No need to macerate them. Just add them to the emulsified vinegar and oil right after chopping so you don’t lose out on any herb flavor.
  • Lemon Yogurt: You could also use crème fraîche or cream, but we always have plain yogurt on hand. Simply swap some (but not all) of the olive oil with yogurt. Use lemon as your acid. And please keep the garlic! Just make sure to whisk extra vigorously to ensure a creamy dressing.
  • Sweet & Spicy: Dice shallots and then macerate them in red wine vinegar. Add a good amount of dijon mustard, chile flakes, and agave nectar. Whisk in olive oil like normal.

I know… You want exact measurements. But I’m not going to give them to you! I promised no recipes in this newsletter and I meant it.

Remember, taste as you go! Decide for yourself what else the vinaigrette needs. It will only make you a better cook and ensure you like what you’re making.

Where I learned this: Alice Waters’s MasterClass, Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons, and Cook’s Illustrated’s experiment on emulsifiers.
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Even if you’ve never made a vinaigrette before, you can do this. I’m confident it will turn out great! After all, you’ll have vinegar’s luck. 😉

I hope this is the end of your urge to buy pre-made salad dressings. When you can whisk up a beautiful vinaigrette in a few minutes with whatever you have on hand, why ever go back?

Luciano 👨‍🍳

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