Chef Notes: The 101 on Vinaigrettes

Chef Notes: The 101 on Vinaigrettes

One of the quickest and easiest sauces to make is a vinaigrette. I’m not talking about the gloppy, over seasoned, too sweet vinaigrette’s you buy at the grocery store. A real, homemade vinaigrette is bright and well balanced and can be used in a variety of dishes, not just salad.












Vinaigrette was one of the original five French mother sauces but was eventually dropped and replaced by tomato sauce. It’s a very basic emulsion of oil and vinegar. In fact, I bet you’ve got the ingredients for a great vinaigrette in your pantry right now. All you need is a decent oil. Extra virgin olive oil is often the preferred oil but really you can use any mild flavored oil. If you want to use a more flavorful oil–like sesame or one of the nut oils–they should be added for flavor and not as the base.

Then you will need vinegar. The options are numerous; balsamic, rice, white wine, red wine, champagne, raspberry, etc… or some combination of two is often used. The rule of thumb for the ratio is one part vinegar to three parts oil but, to be honest, I usually do equal parts. You could season with salt and pepper and stop there for a very simple vinaigrette. There’s nothing wrong with that at all as it can be delicious tossed with a salad. However, most chefs like to add some other flavors. Some of the typically used flavorings/seasonings are: finely minced shallot/garlic, a finely chopped fresh herb, a tablespoon or two of citrus juice, a bit of honey or agave nectar, capers, finely chopped sundried tomatoes, crumbled feta or blue cheese, or, as I mentioned before, a bit of sesame oil or other highly flavorful nut oil. You then shake well and serve. If you want to prevent the oil and vinegar from separating you can whisk in a bit of Dijon mustard or an egg yolk.

Just as the possible ingredients are practically endless, so are the serving suggestions.  Obviously, vinaigrette is great tossed with garden salads but it is also wonderful in other salads and dishes like pasta salad, potato salad, slaws, and caprese. Less popular, but also terrific, is vinaigrette served as a sauce over seafood or poultry. It’s also great tossed into steamed or saute’d vegetables.

Vinaigrettes take just moments to prepare, are more economical made at home, and will keep in the fridge for weeks. If you have leftovers that you’re concerned about going bad just use the rest as a marinade for any meat or seafood.  Get creative with your combinations there are no limits to the variations.

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  1. Gretchen
    January 17, 14:37 Reply

    This sounds crazy, but I never knew what the mustard was for. I stopped making vinaigrettes because the results were so awful.

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