Is vinaigrette just an expensive word for salad dressing? No, not really. The name gives away one ingredient, to begin with: vinegar. A vinaigrette consists of 1 part vinegar, 3 parts of oil and other flavoring ingredients.
There are thousands of variations on vinaigrettes; don't let your fantasy restrict you and please do experiment.
My Personal Favorite
- 1 Shallot, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
- 20 ml of vinegar - see below
- 60 ml of extra virgin olive oil - see below
- Herbs - see below
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of water (this will help form the emulsion)
Shake or stir until emulsified. Dress your salad just before serving and toss at the table. Like it? Next time, make some more for several days. You may also want to experiment adding a touch of sweetness.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Your vinaigrette will only be as good as the olive oil you use. As olive oil is the main ingredient, it goes without saying that the quality of the oil is the most important factor in your success.
First of all, use extra virgin oil. But what does that mean? First of all, it is unrefined. Second, it is the highest quality you can get. It is made from olives, obviously, and the oil is removed by pressing. No chemical process is involved. A good read on extra virgin olive oil can be found here.
Extra virgin olive oil is produced is many countries, but foremost in Spain, Italy and Greece. Each country has its own quality standards. For instance, in Italy the DOP seal stands for Protected Designation of Origin and IGP stands for Protected Geographical Indication. Both seals are an indication of quality.
Generic extra virgin olive oil may be a mixture of many harvests of olives, but DOP and IGP warrant regional olives, with a specific flavor and smell.
Which one is the best? You be the judge! Generally speaking, spending a few Dollars or Euros extra for a bottle of oil is well worth it.
Your choice of Vinegar
Of course, you could use plain white wine vinegar. But just like the olive oil, the quality of the vinegar and its flavor will determine a good deal of the outcome. I generally have a number of vinegars available; besides white wine vinegar, I would recommend balsamic vinegar (the older the better - and the more expensive), apple cider vinegar, raspberry vinegar and sherry vinegar. If you are into oriental food, you probably also have Japanese rice vinegar in your stock.
Add some Herbs
Experiment with herbs, but mostly: use what you have available. Chives, flat leaf parsley, dill, tarragon, oregano all work well in a vinaigrette. Generally, hard herbs (such as rosemary, sage and thyme, only work if given sufficient time to infuse the vinaigrette.