Friday, May 6, 2011

Basics: Vinaigrette

So, you make a salad.
Iceberg lettuce and bottle of ranch dressing. Fine and dandy, and to some extent it does the job... but it's not really healthy. The lettuce, which is pretty much just water, acts as a vehicle for the creamy dressing.

True, there's something to be said about the satisfying crunch of crispy lettuces- but there's more out there. Please don't limit your salads to only one type of pale, watery lettuce.

Mixed greens! Baby spinach! More vitamins and minerals... and flavor than iceberg lettuce.
Just take a look at the run-of-the-mill local grocery. There's probably more than just one type of lettuce. A variety of flavors, textures, and shades of green.

Me? I like to make salad dressing. I make what I need, I know it's fresh, and I know exactly what's in it. I have control.
Generally, it's a vinaigrette that I'll make.

A rule to remember is that when making a vinaigrette the oil to vinegar ratio is 3:1. However, it's not a hard-and-fast rule. Different oils and vinegars will behave a little differently when forced to mingle. (Reading that, after reading what I wrote, I realize it sounds like I was describing junior high schoolers at a dance.)

Anyway, the ratio is not always completely exact depending on what you use, but this is the general rule. Maybe start with a smaller amount to experiment and then go from there.
The dressing seems a little oily after whisking? Perhaps a little drizzle of vinegar will do the trick.

Flavorings could include shallots, minced garlic, herbs, a little honey (which also helps to stabilize the dressing), salt and pepper to combat blandness...

The oils and vinegars you use could add flavor too.
There are a variety of vinegars- different wines, champagne, sherry, apple cider, balsamic, fruit flavors...
"Acids" such as lemon or orange juices also work- sometimes all citrus juice, but more commonly only part is used.
As for oils, vegetable oils are generally flavorless, while olive oils can have a spectrum of flavor. Nut and seed oils such as walnut, hazelnut, grape and pumpkin seed can all change the flavor profile of your food.

A scoop of Dijon mustard flavors with a nice piquancy and also helps to emulsify and thicken the vinaigrette. An egg yolk will help do the same thing, sans piquant flavor... but not everyone is excited about using raw egg yolks.

When making salad, I like to make sure my greens are nice and cold- this will also make them as crisp as possible (yes, even spinach). I don't always toss the leaves with dressing, especially if I happen to be using delicate greens. I'll usually spoon dressing over individual servings right before serving so the lettuces don't have time to wilt. The other option, of course, is tossing just before serving.

This particular salad is made from mixed greens, a raspberry balsamic and rosemary olive oil vinaigrette seasoned with salt and pepper, pistachios, shards of parmesan, and a few raspberries.
I like a variety of flavors, textures, and colors in a salad.

While vinaigrette is for salads, but can also be a nice on green beans or asparagus, and as a finish for fish or chicken...

This is one of my favorite vinaigrettes, based on one from David Lebovitz.

French Vinaigrette
(makes a generous 1/3 c vinaigrette)

1 small shallot, peeled and minced
1/4 t sea salt or kosher salt
1 1/2 T sherry or red wine vinegar
1 t Dijon mustard
4-5 1/2T olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper, extra salt to taste

In a small bowl mix shallot, salt, and vinegar. Let sit about 10 minutes.
Add the mustard and mix well. Slowly add about 4 T of the olive oil while whisking to emulsify.
Taste the vinaigrette- you may want a little more salt or Dijon mustard.
Add extra olive oil as needed if the vinaigrette is too sharp or needs to be thinned a little.

I like to add several good grinds of fresh black pepper to the vinaigrette... either that or grinding fresh pepper over the salad.

1 comment:

  1. This makes me want to run and get a salad right now! Beautiful pictures and beautiful dishes too!