Basic Japanese Salad Dressing

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yield:

    1 cup

Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

In the same way that a Western vinaigrette might be balanced, the amounts of each of the ingredients in a Japanese salad dressing can be varied to taste; more soy sauce can be added for a pronounced saltiness, more dashi to soften the effect of the vinegar and to lend a subtle smokiness, and more vinegar if the dressing needs an emphasized acidic zing. Rice vinegar is traditionally used, but sherry vinegar makes a delicious accent to the smokiness of the dashi.

Unlike Western vinaigrettes that take on a stale quality when stored overnight, Japanese salad dressings keep in the refrigerator almost indefinitely, unless they contain egg yolks.


rice vinegar or sherry vinegar 6 tbsp 90 ml
japanese soy sauce 1 tbsp plus 20 ml 1 tsp
japanese broth-like sauce, cold ½ cup 125 ml


Combine all the ingredients.


Some salads or vegetables benefit from extra sweetness in the dressing (cold beets and cucumbers come to mind). Varying amounts of mirin, or smaller amounts of sugar, dissolved into the basic salad dressing will contribute a contrasting sweetness. The delightful smokiness of most Japanese salad dressings can be increased by infusing a handful of dried bonito flakes in the hot dressing and straining after 1 minute. (If infusing in a cold sauce, strain after 24 hours.) This is an alternative to adding dashi, which would dilute the sauce’s acidity.

Japanese salad dressings can also be thickened and used to coat cooked vegetables or as dipping sauces. To thicken the basic dressing, bring it to a simmer, beat 3 egg yolks until pale, and whisk them into the sauce off the heat. Return the mixture to the heat and stir gently with a wooden spoon (as though making crème anglaise) until the sauce thickens. Let cool.

A basic Japanese salad dressing can also be thickened and flavored with sesame paste, a popular ingredient in Japanese sauces. To make a sesame-flavored and thickened salad dressing, toast two-thirds the amount of white sesame seeds as there are liquid ingredients (for example, cup/165 milliliters seeds to 1 cup/250 milliliters liquid ingredients) by tossing the seeds in a hot skillet until lightly browned and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Grind the seeds to a flaky paste in a coffee grinder (or blender for larger amounts) or in a traditional Japanese suribachi (see Mortar and Pestle). (Peanut butter can be substituted for the sesame paste with delicious, if not strictly authentic, results.)

Miso is also used as a thickener and flavoring for Japanese salad dressings. To make a miso-flavored dressing, work 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) of the basic dressing into ¼ cup (60 milliliters) of brown, red, or white miso and stir this mixture into 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the basic dressing. (This dressing tends to be quite salty.)