November 22, 2005

Eat Your Heart Out - November 22, 2005

Vinaigrettes are one of the simplest and most versatile sauces you can make. Most commonly used on salads, vinaigrettes are also good accompaniments for fish or grilled vegetables.

As the name indicates (vin aigre, or “acidic wine” in French), a vinaigrette is an oil-and-vinegar sauce. Olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper compose a classic vinaigrette. However, lemon juice may be substituted at times for the vinegar since the two have a similar acidity level. Personally, I like a classic Dijon vinaigrette for salads in which Dijon mustard is added as an emulsifier—though once you master the classic, the possibilities are endless and can be suited to your fancy.

Experiment with different types of vinegar: champagne vinegar, sherry vinegar, raspberry vinegar, balsamic vinegar. As long as the ratio of oil to vinegar remains the same (it should be 3:1), it’s hard to go wrong (though don’t use malt vinegar or white vinegar for a salad dressing—the result will be too overpowering). When serving your vinaigrette over salad, make sure that the lettuce leaves and vegetables are dry, as water will repel the oil in the dressing from sticking. Don’t dress the salad too far in advance, since the lettuce will wilt, and the oil and vinegar will separate.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that because so few ingredients are required, a vinaigrette depends on the quality of the oils and vinegars used. If your vinegar has particles floating at the bottom or appears discolored, toss it in the garbage. You wouldn’t drink corked wine, so there’s no reason to have bad vinegar either.