A vinaigrette is light, healthy and carries over bold flavours. The most common way of eating vinaigrettes all over the world is as a dressing for salads. A simple oil and vinegar dressing can also be a fantastic dip for crusty bread. You can use it to dress a cold pasta salad. You can also use vinaigrettes as a marinade for all kinds of meat, poultry and fish. I once cooked a rack of lamb with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and some rosemary and it was the best rack of lamb that I've had to this day. Shortly I am going to show you how to make one of my very favourite mustard vinaigrettes which is phenomenal on fish and would also work on chicken.
A really basic vinaigrette is 1 part acid to 3-4 parts oil and a little seasoning. Oil and acid do not like to combine so I find the best method is to keep the vinaigrette in a bottle or jar and give it a very good shake before adding it to your dish. The vigorous shaking will momentarily suspend the particles of acid evenly throughout the oil causing a short lived emulsificaion, but just long enough for you to dress a salad, piece of meat, or whatever you choose. Most commonly in a vinaigrette the acid is (drum roll, please) vinegar! You can use white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, wine or sherry vinegar, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, malt vinegar, etc... A fantastic acid substitute is either lemon, lime, or grapefruit juice or any combination of the three. You can use just about any kind of oil you prefer too, but if you want to make an Asian vinaigrette and use toasted sesame oil (which is delicious) I would cut it with a neutral oil like grapeseed or vegetable. Too much sesame oil will totally overpower your dish.
There are other things you can add to a vinaigrette that will act as an emulsifier and keep the oil and acid suspended for a much longer time. If you are a fan of creamy dressings you can add a bit of yogurt. Not only will it act as an emulsifier but it will add a creamy texture and tangy flavour (not to mention it's a hell of a lot healthier than any creamy dressing you can buy at the market). Another great emulsifier is mustard! Good mustard that is. I would not recommend the bright yellow hot dog mustard (but then again, in terms of emulsifying ability it would work, so be my guest if that's your thing). I'm going to show you how to make one of my very favourite vinaigrettes, a tarragon mustard vinaigrette with white wine vinegar. It's so simple, so sharp, so beautiful. If you can't find tarragon mustard, don't fret. You can use any good quality mustard and add a bit of fresh, chopped tarragon. It will be just as good.
1 tsp tarragon mustard
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or to taste, more on that in a bit)
In a small bowl or custard cup, add the tarragon mustard and the vinegar.
Whisk the mustard and vinegar together until well combined.
Add the olive oil gradually to the mustard and vinegar mixture in an even and steady stream while whisking constantly. The amount of oil you need relies completely on how sharp/acidic you like your dressing. Some people like a ratio of 1:2. I tend to like dressing at 1 part acid to 3 part oil, usually. Some people prefer it 1:4. So it all depends on what kind of vinaigrette person you are. If you're not sure, start with twice as much as oil as vinegar. If it's too sharp, add more oil. You can always add more but can't take away. So bear that in mind.
When the oil is incorporated all that's left is to season with salt and pepper. How easy is that? I make this vinaigrette quite a bit. It's three ingredients, takes one minute to make but it's phenomenal.
You could eat vinaigrette every day for the rest of your life and never have the same one twice. There are so many things you can add to a basic vinaigrette to enhance the flavour. You could add minced shallot, scallions, garlic, ginger, chilies, seeds, fruit purées, honey, fresh herbs, spices, zest, yogurt, crème fraiche, egg yolks, peanut butter, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, mayonnaise, etc, etc, etc... It's so easy to be creative with a vinaigrette.
So get into it. I hope you can see why I chose to highlight this instead of the sauce espagnole... maybe we'll go over the espagnole in a future post. In the meantime, I hope this has inspired you to start making some interesting vinaigrettes of your own. Be interesting with your vinaigrettes and remember they're not just for dressing leafy vegetables.
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