A simple vinaigrette: a bottle of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a cruet of vinegar, and a pepper grinder. With these simple instruments and ingredients, you can make your own vinaigrette, a humble sauce that many do not even consider to be a proper sauce.
The French have named it “la sauce vinaigrette”, however, and when done properly, it can turn an ordinary salad into an extraordinary dish. Vinaigrettes are not reserved only for salads, and can be used to good effect in a multitude of dishes such as grilled fish, roasted chicken, pan-seared steak, or wilted greens.
Vinaigrettes are extraordinarily simple to make, and all you really need to know is the 3:1 ratio. This denotes the ratio of amounts of oil to vinegar. Because vinaigrettes are made from so few ingredients, however, the quality of each ingredient is very important, as it contributes much of the flavor of the sauce. You should only use the best olive oil and vinegar that you can buy. Good sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper are important too.
The only things that you will need besides your ingredients are a whisk and a bowl. First place the salt and pepper in the bowl together with the vinegar, then whisk them thoroughly. This allows the salt to dissolve in the vinegar, as it does not do so in oil. Once this is done, you can whisk in the oil, and your basic sauce vinaigrette is complete.
A typical vinaigrette is made using red wine vinegar and olive oil. By combining that with a few key ingredients, the number of variations of vinaigrette that you can make is almost endless. Here are some standard variations that you may consider:
Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette: Substitute white wine vinegar for red wine vinegar, then whisk a tablespoon of honey and stone-ground or Dijon mustard into it. Finally, add your olive oil. This vinaigrette complements grilled steak or salmon beautifully.
Cilantro-Basil Vinaigrette: Use balsamic vinegar in the place of red wine vinegar, then add a few tablespoons of minced fresh basil and cilantro. Finally, add the olive oil to the mix to complete the vinaigrette.
Citrus Vinaigrette: In the place of vinegar use citrus juice, such as lemon juice or lime juice. Taste as you add the citrus juice, and you may wish to add more oil to balance out the tart taste. This vinaigrette tastes excellent with avocado salad or grilled fish.
Warm Cider Vinaigrette: Fill ½ a cup with cider vinegar, chopped shallots, salt and pepper and leave to simmer until it is reduced to 1/3 cup. Stop heating it and stir 2/3 cup of olive oil in. Tastes best served over slightly bitter greens, bacon strips and warm goat cheese.
Sherry-Walnut Vinaigrette: Substitute sherry vinegar for red wine vinegar, and mix with walnut oil instead of olive oil.
Champagne-Hazelnut Vinaigrette: Combine champagne vinegar with hazelnut oil and whisk together. Use over a salad of baby spinach, sliced strawberries, and some crushed, toasted hazelnuts.
Jalapeño-Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette: In the place of red wine vinegar, use equal parts white wine vinegar and lime juice. Place this in a food processor along with salt, pepper, half a seeded jalapeño, and two tablespoons of fresh cilantro. Blend until even, then drizzle in olive oil while motor is still running.
Anchovy Vinaigrette: Blend two or three anchovy fillets in a blender with red wine vinegar and two teaspoons of Dijon mustard. While the motor is still running, slowly pour in the olive oil, then serve the resulting sauce over steamed asparagus, romaine salad, or poached leeks.
Parsley Vinaigrette for Roasted Meat or Poultry: Roast or pan-sear meat or poultry, then blend 3 tablespoonfuls of the hot juiced left in the pan together with red wine vinegar, pepper, salt, and 2 tablespoonfuls of fresh parsley. Keeping the motor running, slowly pour in 2 tablespoonfuls of olive oil.
Garlic Vinaigrette: Using a mortar and pestle or the flat side of a kitchen knife, mash a large clove of garlic with salt. Then, add vinegar and pepper to the mixture before whisking it with the olive oil. Alternatively, you could use one tablespoon of roasted garlic in the place of the mashed garlic. Tastes fantastic with grilled steak or lamb chops.
Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette: Stir 1 tablespoonful of fresh minced ginger into rice wine vinegar, then whisk in toasted sesame oil and canola oil mixed in the proportions of one part sesame oil to three parts canola oil.
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