When I was a kid and we were eating salad for dinner we always had a selection of bottled salad dressings on the table. Until I turned 12 and started reading teenage fashion magazines that warned me of the perils of creamy dressings I always went for the Ranch. Post-age 12 I think I opted for Italian. My dad liked Thousand Island. I don’t remember what my mom or brother used, but I do remember the same bottle of Russian dressing languishing in the fridge – and being ignored on the table – for what seemed like years.
Today, I make my own salad dressings. In this case, it’s not because I object to the taste of the bottled so much: Ranch dressing is yummy and I love the sesame ginger stuff my mom eats these days. I make my own dressing because a) I’d like to forego the additives and filler found in a lot of bought dressings and b) I like to vary the dressing based on what we’re eating.
Sometimes I’ll make a nice yogurt-based blue cheese dressing, but more often than not it’s a vinaigrette. When we’re really in a hurry that means drizzling lemon juice or vinegar (red wine, white wine, or balsamic), olive oil and salt on a salad and tossing. But when I have four or five minutes, I make an ever so slightly more elaborate vinaigrette. In cooking school I learned the basic ratio for dressings, and it’s a handy thing to memorize. Once you know the proportions the recipe is infinitely customizable based on your tastes, what the vinaigrette will be dressing, and what the rest of your meal consists of.
The basic recipe:
- one part stabilizing/flavor part like Dijon mustard, honey, maple syrup, pomegranate molasses etc.
- two parts acid like vinegar or citrus juice
- six parts oil like olive, canola, walnut etc. or a blend
My chef taught us to think of it as 1, 2, 3 as in one part for the first element, two parts of the second, and then three parts of the second (so six of the first). Feel free to ignore this trick if it makes the recipe more confusing.
Two other rules to remember: always add some salt and always taste the dressing. If you think it needs more oil or acid, add it. You can also add in minced shallots, garlic, or herbs – lots of options.
Last night I made a tarragon vinaigrette. I decided to make a little extra to last a few days since we eat a lot of salads. Using the above ratio, here’s the recipe:
1 TB Dijon mustard
2 TB white wine vinegar
6 TB (1/3 cup) oil – I used a blend of canola and extra virgin olive oil
1/2 TB chopped tarragon
Whisk together the mustard, vinegar, and salt. Add oil in drop by drop then in a thin stream, whisking the all the while to emulsify the mixture. Taste and adjust flavors. Last night I decided mine was too sharp-tasting, so I added another tablespoon of oil. Finally, stir in the chopped herb. In the end, it will be thick and tangy.
This vinaigrette will keep for several days in the fridge and would be delicious on roasted fish, potato or chicken salad, or even as a spread on a turkey sandwich.