Thursday, December 24, 2009

Making Vinaigrettes

Preparing for the good harvest we are planning on this year, I thought I would talk about the making of salad dressings...

I have a few favorites and I am sure that those of you that have been following my teachings for a little while will have no problem in guessing what they are. The truth of the matter is that you can make salad dressings out of whatever your little heart desires. I am going to give a few basics to remember in the making of salad dressings, and in future posts will give you several different salad dressings, if you have a favorite, drop me a line and I will post a recipe for you...

The best way to season a salad is basically with the addition of a little oil and vinegar or citrus juice directly into your greens and seasoned with a little salt and fresh ground pepper. With seasoning salads I have found that usually the simpler it is dressed, the better it is.

It is easy to use an uneven proportion of oil and acid on a salad when dressing in this manner. which is why I prefer to make a vinaigrette. I prefer this method for two main reasons. The first being that I can allow whatever flavors I choose to marry with each other. The second, is that I can add ingredients to my acid so that when adding my oil as an emulification, that I wind up with a more stable product.

In order to make sure that you have an even distribution you must emulsify the acid with the oil. The traditional rule of thumb is three or four to one ratio of oil versus vinegar/acid. The use of additional fruits, vegetables, pastes and cream, allow us to vary this traditional rule.

Even though vinaigrettes are by far the most popular types of salad dressings , there are other fashions for making salad dressings such as adding together such things as mayonaisse, mustards, yogurt, buttermilk to name a few, combining products that allow for a thicks dressing.

The best way to make a vinaigrette that will hold up the best is to take your acidic liquid, combining your seasons and mustard, whisk the hell out of it to combine all the flavors and then slowly drizzle in your oil drop by drop and then in a slow steady stream while whisking briskly to incorporate your emulsion. Vinaigrettes can be stored covered in your fridge for up to two weeks. Always whisk briskly or shake like hell before adding to your greens.

Althought the basic vinaigrette is the incorporation of oil and acid, thanks to the ever growing market of different vinegars and oils on the market, the possibilities of making different types of vinaigrettes are endless.

By far, the best oil to use in salad dressings is extra-virgin olive oil. The grades of this variety of oil vary according to the place of orgin. Some may argue that a high grade olive oil should not be infused with vinegars or with other ingredients because they mask the true nutty flavor of the oil. I somewhat agree with this sentiment. If I am going to infuse olive oil with other flavors, sometimes I prefer to use an inferior oil, because the infusion masks the flavor of the oil and a good olive oil is not truly necessary.

Vinegars vary greatly in acidic content and flavor, each having its own characteristics. This is all a point of preference. Wine vinegar, the most popular of vinegars, can be found anywhere and the use of these or other vinegars lies in the preference of the individual. Use your own palate to discover what vinegars you like the best.

Subjectively, I like balsamic and sherry vinegars, and they make the best vinaigrettes in my opinion. I enjoy the Spanish vinegars for the making of salad dressings because of its high acidic content, they possess a strong, robust flavor, are more complex and nuttier than most wine vinegars.

If you are fortunate enough to come across "aceto balsamico tradizionale" and you use it for a salad dressing, please send me your address so I can send for the culinary police to put a boot in your butt!!! These balsamics are sold in bottles of a few ounces and can cost several hundreds of dollars. There will be a whole post on balsamic in the near future, I am still writing the article.

Citrus juice makes a great alternative to vinegar in vinaigrettes. Because the acidic content in citrus juices is much lower than that of vinegars, a ratio of two to one, oil versus vinegar is recommended. If serving wine with a meal, it is offensive to serve a vinegar based sauce. The two should not be served at the same table. See the quote of the week for Feb. 12...

Before I go any further, I can not stress enough that as far as vinaigrettes are concerned, when adding seasonings and enhancers, more is not necessarily better. As I said, the simplest vinaigrettes are usually the best ones. I generally choose a path for making salad dressings, deciding on what I desire out of my final product and choose a theme or method for me to achieve the desired sauce.

Other ingredients-

Freshly Ground Black Pepper- a great flavor enhancer, subjectively speaking, a salad isn't a salad without a few good twists from the pepper mill.

Herbs- any strong herb is always a favorite in making vinaigrettes, chopped fine or ground in a spice mill. Allow the herbed vinaigrette to sit before serving giving the herbs time to infuse with the dressing. Some of my favorite herbs to use are basil, thyme, tarragon, dill, and rosemary.

Savory flavors- Stocks, marinades, worchestire, soy sauce are always good additions. The use of a good chicken stock can make for a lowered fat salad dressing, eliminating some of the oil. Generally speaking, substitute 75% of the oil with chicken stock.

Assertive flavors- Garlic, garlic, garlic,garlic, garlic....can ya' take a hint...I do not make any vinaigrette without garlic, I have not one vinaigrette in my forte that does not possess garlic in some way or another. Other assertive flavors that are also very good are shallots, onions or any member of that family, capers, tapenade or olivado. One hint though when using any paste, vegetable or fruit that is sold in a brine, you need to cut back on your salt and vinegar.

Cheese- Any soft crumbly cheese can be added to a salad dressing in your acidic stage prior to the addition of oil. I personally love a feta based vinaigrette. Hard cheeses may be used but I recommend grating the hard cheeses fine before adding to the vinegar.

OK. I suppose I have rambled enough, I think that you got the message...

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