Monday, January 31, 2011

Salad Dressing Basics

Delicious and healthy homemade salad dressings like the one above are fun, easy, and inexpensive to make.  The combinations are endless and the benefit to making them at home is that you can control the ingredients.  No preservatives or other mystery ingredients.  So, whether it's a light vinaigrette or a rich Caesar, chances are you have most of the ingredients to get started.

To begin with, the difference between a salad dressing and a vinaigrette is simply that one is a stable emulsion (dressing) while the other is unstable (vinaigrette).  A stable emulsion is accomplished simply by adding a protein, such as cream or egg yolk.

The simplest vinaigrette's, are made with an oil as the base, an acid as the accent (vinegar or citrus juice), and a dash of salt to bring out the flavor of both.  Oil is usually 3 parts to 1 part acid.  This can be modified to your preference.  The most common oil is by far olive oil.  Other common oils for vinaigrette's include canola, grapeseed, safflower, walnut, etc.  More pungent oils like sesame oil or even olive oil can be diluted with a
lighter oil so that the flavor is not overpowering with lighter acidic choices. 

The choice of an acid should compliment the strength and flavor of the oil.  This means lemon juice or white wine vinegar with a lighter oil, whereas a red wine vinegar or balsamic with a bolder oil.  Choice of oil and acid combination should also be based on the profile of the vegetables they will be served with.  For example, a delicate Simpson Seed Lettuce would be overpowered and become visually unappealing if dressed with a bold/ dark balsamic vinaigrette.  However, the same dressing over Arugula would be perfect.

The easiest way to incorporate the ingredients of a vinaigrette is in a jar.  From there, the variations are pretty much endless.  I commonly add either honey or sugar to help balance out the flavor of the acid, as well as some kind of onion, garlic, or fresh herbs.  Please DO NOT overdo it with these additional ingredients.  Vinaigrette's should be simple, otherwise the star of the show, the base oil, will be lost.

To turn a vinaigrette into a dressing or stable emulsion, you can whisk in an egg yolk or heavy cream.  This also adds texture and an additional element of flavor.  Again, the combinations here are virtually endless. Keep in mind, if you follow these steps, a recipe is not needed, but the first few times you may decide to use a recipe to get the hang of it.  Experiment and enjoy.


  1. "Vinaigrette's should be simple, otherwise the star of the show, the base oil, will be lost." Right on. Plain old oil & vinegar is delicious. Never tried adding an egg yolk...will have to though. You're right....dressings are so fun to play with!

  2. I guess I didn't really cover much on stable emulsions...hmmm, sounds like another post in the hopper.