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02/17/2017

~ In the Beginning: Basic Vinaigrette Demystified ~

IMG_5827I have no idea who prepared the first salad -- no one does.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and more likely than not, as a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, a mixture of wild greens, an herb or two, wild mushrooms, flowers and a some berries and/or seeds would surely satisfy the appetite.  As time passed, a pinch of salt got added.  A little later, a squirt of citrus, then a splash of vinegar.  Last to the party: oil.  Yes indeed, he or she was definitely onto something.  That something, the well dressed salad, has become very sophisticated, but, basic vinaigrette has remained unchanged since ancient times.

Here's what one expert source has to say about vinaigrette:

As per the Oxford Companion to Food:  Vinaigrette (vihn-uh-greht), also known to Europe as French dressing, is probably the most common dressing for salad (barring commercial preparations) to the Western world.  It is essentially a 'mixture' (oil and vinegar are, strictly speaking, immiscible) of olive or other oil with vinegar (or lemon juice or a combination both), plus salt and pepper and optionally herbs, shallot and/or mustard.  The generically accepted proportion of oil to vinegar is 3 to 1, although some prefer 4 to 1.  If lemon juice replaces vinegar, the proportion is closer to 1 to 1.  Some authorities recommend that one should begin by dissolving the desired amount of salt in the vinegar, since it will not dissolve in the oil.

The main use of vinaigrette is for green salads, but it is also appropriate for other salads (e.g. tomato or potato salad).  It's also used as a dressing for avocado or artichoke hearts, and, meat preparations such as fromage de tête (pig's head terrine).  When a vinaigrette is destined for a green salad, it must be mixed immediately before serving, and, the salad should be tossed without delay.  This is because of the problem posed by the immiscibility of oil and vinegar, and because the green leaves will wilt after a while under the influence of the dressing.

IMG_5805Immiscibility is a big word for:  oil and vinegar don't mix.

IMG_5812Emulsion.  That's another big word for what happens when you force two items that don't play well together to form a homogeneous mixture.  In the case of vinaigrette, that would be oil and vinegar (or lemon juice).  Put them together in a bowl or in a blender and vigorously whisk or process them and they will indeed come together, but, within moments, they will go their separate ways -- each back to their own corner of the playground.

IMG_5823Surfactant.  Yet another big word for a third party that the two miscreants both are attracted to. Culinarily, common surfactants are egg yolks, mayonnaise, mustard and honey.  An egg yolk or a tablespoon or two of mayonnaise, mustard and/or honey whisked or processed into the oil and vinegar will stabilize the vinaigrette.  The love won't last forever, eventually they'll separate again, but it will last long enough to make your salad eating experience more enjoyable.

To make 1/2 or 1 cup of my favorite basic vinaigrette:  

IMG_58072 or 4 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar, or vinegar of choice*

1 1/2 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or mayonnaise

1/2 or 1  teaspoons honey

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1/8 or 1/4  teaspoon black pepper, more or less, to taste

6  or 12 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil or vegetable oil, or oil of choice*

*Note:  There are all sorts of oils and vinegars and flavor-infused oils and vinegars in our food world.  They can be combined to make all sorts of vinaigrettes.  Be creative, but, mix with caution as they vary in strength of flavor.  It's important when mixing them together to taste often to reach a pleasing balance.  For example:  When using a strong-flavored oil, like sesame oil or walnut oil, it's usually necessary to "tone it down" a bit by diluting it with a generically flavored oil, like peanut or some type vegetable oil.  When using a strong-flavored vinegar, like balsamic, depending on the brand and quality, it's wise to start with less and add more, to taste.

~ Step 1.  There are three ways to mix a vinaigrette.  In order of shortest- to longest-lasting emulsion:  1) In a bowl, in a thin stream, vigorously whisk the oil into all the other ingredients. 2) Place all ingredients in a jar, tightly cover and vigorously shake.  3)  In a blender with the motor running, in a thin stream, feed the oil into the other ingredients.  Note:  Number 2 is my favorite.

~ Step 2.  Shake, taste, and, adjust to your liking.  Use immediately or refrigerate until ready to use, and, always:  shake vigorously just before tossing judisciously, a little at a time, into salad -- just enough to lightly coat the greens.  Store leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator.   

Vinaigrette is not salad dressing, it's a type of salad dressing: 

IMG_5840In the Beginning:  Basic Vinaigrette Demystified:  Recipe yields 1/2 or 1 cup basic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  whisk or 1- 2- cup measuring container or jar w/tight-fitting lid or blender

IMG_5846Cook's Note:  When I am adding minced fresh herbs, shallot, or pressed garlic to basic vinaigrette,  I add them last -- 1-2 hours before serving.  I let the vinaigrette stand for those 1-2 hours at room temperature, to give the flavors time to marry.  There's more, once fresh ingredients have been added to a basic vinaigrette, leftovers should be discarded after 3-4 days, even if stored in the refrigerator, because of the possibility of the growth of harmful bacteria. 

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

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