How to Make a Basic Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette Ingredients

A basic vinaigrette is an oil and vinegar dressing for salads. Above is a photo of just some of the ingredients from my pantry and fridge that I have on hand to make vinaigrette salad dressings. The possible flavor variations are endless. 

The basic proportions of a vinaigrette are not at all fixed. Your personal taste and the ingredients in your salad will determine how acidic or mild you choose to make your dressing. Here are some proportion suggestions to get you started:

  • For a very acidic dressing: 50/50 acid and oil
  • For a medium dressing: 1 part acid, 2 parts oil
  • For a mild dressing: 1 part acid, 3 parts oil

I prefer mild dressing proportions for my basic dressing, so that’s the example I’ll use. In an earlier post I gave a recipe for a walnut oil and lemon salad dressing, so I’ll go with red wine vinegar and olive oil for this post.

A vinaigrette is an unstable emulsion. An emulsion is a mixture created from two liquids that are mutually non-mixable, or immiscible. Oil and vinegar are two such liquids.

To see out what I am saying, pour 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a small jar. Add 3 tablespoons of oil. Look at the contents of the jar. The oil will naturally float to the top of the jar. The vinegar, being the heavier liquid, rests on the bottom.

Oil & Vinegar

Add a bit of salt and pepper to your jar. Put a lid on the jar and shake it vigorously. Viola! You’ve just made a simple vinaigrette, an emulsion, an opaque mixture in which the oil has been dispersed into the vinegar. But such an emulsion is unstable.

Vinegar & Oil Emulsion

Let the dressing sit on your counter or in your fridge and slowly but surely the oil and vinegar will, once again, separate.

Separating Vinaigrette

I like to add a few more elements to give a basic vinaigrette a bit more depth of flavor. Two of my favorite additions are Dijon mustard and shallots. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use only shallots today. You can use any kind of onion or a bit of garlic if that’s what you have on hand.


Basic Vinaigrette

Serves 4-6 as a side salad, enough to coat a small head of lettuce

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon Vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallots
  • salt & pepper

Directions:

Mince 1-2 teaspoons shallots. Place the shallots in a clean dish towel and then squeeze them until the juices are released.

You can then rinse the squeezed shallots under cold water for an even milder onion taste in your dressing.

Remove the shallots from the towel and add them to the vinegar in a small bowl or jar. Add a good pinch of salt to the vinegar. Stir or shake the mixture to dissolve the salt. Note: it’s important to add the salt to the vinegar in order for it to dissolve. Salt added to oil will float in the oil and won’t easily dissolve and disperse throughout the dressing. Let the vinegar mixture sit for several minutes in order to let the flavors meld before you add the oil.

Add the olive oil. Shake or stir well to emulsify your dressing. To check your seasoning, dip a small bit of the salad into your vinaigrette. Correct seasoning as needed. Immediately before serving, add the well-mixed dressing to your salad ingredients. I’ve used a mesclun mix below. Toss gently and well in order to coat the salad greens lightly but evenly. Serve on chilled plates.

I always make more dressing than I need in order to have some for the next day, but the freshness of the flavors diminishes over time, so I keep the dressing for about 3-5 days max.

Vinaigrette variations:

Use any good quality, fresh oil: olive, walnut, hazelnut, sunflower, etc.

Vary the acidity by trying other vinegars or citrus juice such as lemon, grapefruit, or lime.

Squeeze a little garlic into your dressing. Add sour cream or buttermilk.

Add dry herbs to the acid and allow them to refresh in the acid before adding the the oil.

Add fresh herbs to the salad greens before adding the dressing. 

Minced Shallots

Mince 1-2 teaspoons shallots.

Shallots in Towel

Squeeze Shallots in Towel

Green Salad

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