Salad dressings are generally made by mixing two ingredients that don't want to mix, such as oil and vinegar. This is called an emulsion and is accomplished by some enthusiastic shaking or whisking until the dressing is smooth.
- Creamy dressings are often mayonnaise-based and are best whisked in a bowl or quickly whirled in a blender or food processor.
- Vinaigrettes take just a couple of minutes to make and are a mixture of oil and vinegar plus any desired seasonings. They often separate after mixing and need a quick shake or whisking before serving.
Instead of a recipe, vinaigrette is a simple ratio of oil to vinegar. Once you know your desired ratio, you can make as much or as little as you need. A French vinaigrette typically has a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar; for a lighter taste, try a 2 to 1 ratio or even equal parts oil and vinegar. With less oil, the vinaigrette will be a bit tangier and less viscous.
Best Oils for Salad Dressing
The oil you use affects the flavor of your vinaigrette significantly.
- Vegetable oils such as canola, corn, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oil offer mild flavor and color. Use one of these when you want the other flavors in the dressing to star.
- Olive oil is a popular choice for vinaigrette, but keep in mind that olive oils vary significantly in color, flavor, and price range. Extra virgin olive oil, which is from the first pressing of the olives, is the fruitiest and most flavorful. For mild olive flavor, try olive oil labeled as light (this refers to the flavor and isn't lower in fat or calories).
- Sesame oil and nut oils, including peanut, almond, walnut, and hazelnut, are full-flavor oils with plenty of personality. These are highly perishable and should be stored in the refrigerator.
Best Vinegars for Salad Dressing
Vinegar adds acidity and balance to the dressing. Purchase a few types and use them interchangeably or even combine them to taste. You can also replace all or part of the vinegar with wine or fruit juice such as lemon juice.
- Balsamic: Made from the juice of white Trebbiano grapes. Balsamic vinegar is aged in barrels and has a dark color and sweet flavor.
- Cider: Made from apple cider. This vinegar has a subtle apple flavor and crisp bite.
- Fruit: Made by steeping fruit such as raspberries or blueberries in cider vinegar or wine vinegar. This process can also be used for herb vinegars.
- Rice: Made from rice wine or sake. This vinegar comes plain or seasoned and has a pleasant, tangy-sweet flavor.
- Wine: Made from red or white wine, sherry, or champagne. The vinegar's color and flavor depend on the wine used.
Salad Dressing Seasonings
While vinaigrette needs only a pinch of salt and cracked black pepper to finish it off, you can bump up the taste with additional ingredients.
- Mustard: Dijon-style is a good choice. Mustard adds flavor and serves as an emulsifier, which means it helps to keep the oil and vinegar combined.
- Herbs: Add just about any herb or herb combination. Snip fresh herbs with a scissors or knife. Keep in mind that 1 tablespoon fresh-snipped herb equals 1 teaspoon dried. Start with a generous pinch and season the dressing to taste.
- Minced Garlic: Start with 1 to 2 cloves, minced, and add to taste. Other options worth trying include snipped oil-pack dried tomatoes, capers, chopped anchovies, crushed red pepper flakes, and grated cheese.
How to Mix a Vinaigrette
Choose from these two methods to combine the oil and vinegar:
- Jar Method: Place the oil and vinegar in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add salt and pepper and any other seasonings. Cover the jar and shake vigorously. Shake again before serving.
- Bowl Method: For a thicker, creamier consistency, make the vinaigrette in a bowl with a whisk. Place the vinegar and desired seasonings in a medium bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil in a steady stream.
Tip: To thicken the vinaigrette quickly, add an ice cube to the glass jar with the ingredients and shake. Discard the ice cube once the vinaigrette is well mixed.
How to Store Homemade Salad Dressing
Most vinaigrettes can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Before serving, bring the vinaigrette to room temperature and shake. Oils tend to thicken and get cloudy when cold but clear up and become a normal consistency as they come to room temperature.