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Making the Perfect Vinaigrette: From Start to Finish
Posted by Olivia on Wed, August 17, 2011
Making YOUR Perfect Vinaigrette
We get asked on a daily basis: how do I make the perfect vinaigrette? The benefit to making your own vinaigrette instead of buying one prepared is that you can make it your way and change it up depending on your taste, mood, or specific cuisine. Making the perfect vinaigrette for any and every occasion starts with a simple ratio of olive oil to balsamic, and you build up from that base.
Let’s begin by looking at what a vinaigrette is. At the most basic level, it’s an emulsion—or a mixture—of oil, vinegar, and any various added flavors and ingredients. Most cooks use a ratio of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar; this will yield a mild flavor. If you like more “bite” to it, use a ratio of 3 parts olive oil to 2 parts vinegar; this will yield a sharper, tarter flavor.
How do you know which olive oils and balsamic vinegars to use together? It’s all to taste, so use your own palate to tell you which combinations you prefer. Popular combinations at The Olive Press include: White Balsamic Vinegar and Limonato Olive Oil; Sherry Balsamic Vinegar and Arbequina Olive Oil; or Peach Balsamic Vinegar with our Ascolano Olive Oil. Visit the pages of specific olive oil varietals on our site to see which balsamics they pair best with.
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar are only the beginnings of a masterful vinaigrette. What happens when oil and vinegar mix? They separate almost immediately. If you are whisking your vinaigrette immediately before serving the salad, this won’t pose a problem. But to get your vinaigrette to become more emulsified, or blended, you’ll want to add an emulsifier to the mix to hold things together. Mustard, dry or wet, is the easiest and safest to use, and it adds a lovely brightness to the vinaigrette’s flavor. A pinch of dried mustard or a teaspoon or two of wet mustard is usually a good start for a single batch of vinaigrette. Otherwise, an egg yolk may be used (think of traditional mayonnaise, which uses raw eggs)—but be aware of the safety precautions regarding consuming raw eggs.
The Other Flavors
Oil, vinegar, emulsifier—your perfect vinaigrette is almost complete. Now comes the really fun part, where you get to experiment with everything in the kitchen sink to make your dressing your own. Here’s a list of ingredients we love to add to homemade vinaigrettes:
· Chopped garlic
· Minced shallots
· Minced fresh herbs
· Dried herbs and spices
· A few drops of high-flavor fruit balsamic vinegar (try Fig or Strawberry)
· A few drops of fresh citrus juice (lemon or lime are great) or alcohol (try sherry, rum, or infused vodka)
· Just a smidge of sweetener, such as honey, maple syrup, or agave
· And, of course, ample sea salt and freshly black pepper
Now that you know what’s going into your vinaigrette, you’ll need to know how to blend it. In order to get the mixture to emulsify properly, there’s an order to the process. In a small mixing bowl (preferably not plastic), combine your chosen vinegar, “other flavors,” and emulsifier; whisk well. In a small drizzle, slowly stream in the olive oil to your mixture; whisking constantly. The point here is to slowly emulsify the oil directly as it hits the vinegar—a process which can take a few minutes to get just right, but when it’s done properly, will get your vinaigrette smooth and well blended. Once whisked, it’s time to test your vinaigrette. Take a lettuce leaf or other chopped vegetable that’s going into your salad, and dip it into your vinaigrette, shaking off the excess liquid. Now taste. The flavor of the vinaigrette should pop a bit and be well seasoned (i.e. salted); otherwise, adjust flavors and redip. When the flavor of the vinaigrette balances with the flavor of the vegetable you’re dipping, you’re all done.
To get ideas for vinaigrette and salad dressing recipes, check out the Recipe section of our site.
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