Vinaigrette Dressing

Method

A few plain lettuce leaves can be turned into a gastronomic delight with a good vinaigrette dressing. Opinions vary as to how sharp it should taste, but I prefer a little more oil than the classic proportions of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts of oil, and I like to use extra virgin olive oil as its fruity flavour can be really appreciated. All sorts of different oils and vinegars can be used for a variety of results, and lemon juice can be used instead of vinegar. Dark, matured balsamic vinegar, which is sweet and rich-tasting, makes a very special vinaigrette, as does delicious sherry vinegar which is also slightly sweet and not strong.

For a smoothly emulsified vinaigrette, it is best to add powdered mustard, but I often use Dijon mustard and personally like mild wholegrain mustards best of all. It is not necessary to use mustard at all if you don’t like it. Traditionally, vinaigrette is made by whisking the oil gradually into the vinegar and mustard mixture, but I find vigorous shaking of all the ingredients in a screw-top jar successful, and far easier.

  1. Put 2 tablespoons wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon caster sugar and 2 teaspoons powdered or Dijon mustard into a screw-top jar. Replace the lid securely and give the jar a really good shake. If making dressing to store for any length of time, choose ajar with a plastic-coated inner lid so the vinegar doesn’t affect it.

  2. Add 6–7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to the jar, replace the lid securely again and shake vigorously until the dressing has lightly emulsified. Season to taste. Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Before using, bring the jar to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before the dressing is needed and shake again.

Vinaigrette Variations

There are endless variations of vinaigrette dressing, but here are 3 of the most usual ones. You can, of course, add other flavourings as well to any of these suggestions.

The taste of garlic in a salad dressing should not be overpowering, but in moderation I think crushed garlic is a wonderful addition for many salads.

I almost always use a little mustard in any vinaigrette and very often chopped fresh herbs, too. Wholegrain mustard is my favourite and I often add a little soy sauce with the vinegar to add extra flavour.

  1. Usually 1 small crushed garlic clove is enough to add a garlicky flavour to the vinaigrette unless you want a much stronger taste. Shake the dressing before using. If you don’t want to bite on tiny bits of raw garlic, you can leave the dressing standing with the garlic for a bit, then strain the vinaigrette through a sieve when ready to use.

  2. Add 2 tablespoons chopped, fresh herbs such as dill, fennel, chervil, savory, mint, tarragon and lovage for a stronger flavour, and shake up in the dressing. This herb variation is useful with meat, poultry and fish salads.

  3. For a honey and mustard variation, add 2–3 teaspoons wholegrain or Dijon mustard or 1 teaspoon mustard powder and 1 teaspoon clear honey to the vinegar and mix together before adding the oil.

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