A salad dressing can be composed of as little as two simple ingredients: oil and vinegar. That said, everything but the kitchen sink could also be tossed into homemade vinaigrette. Molasses? Check. Pickle juice? Why not? In fact, I once met a chef who threw together a vinaigrette that contained avocado, olive oil, lemon juice, relish and pickle juice, elder vinegar, strawberry jam, and smoky black seasoning. It was strange, but it was also delicious.
This following recipe is what you would call a back-pocket recipe — something you can store away in your brain and pull out whenever you need it without ever actually looking back at the recipe.
But first, let’s talk technique. The key to good vinaigrette is balance. Specifically, the ratio of oil to vinegar should be one part vinegar to four parts oil.
Next, we know that oil and vinegar tastes amazing together, but did you know the two liquids don’t exactly like each other? To create a cohesive dressing you’ll need to emulsify it. Without help from an emulsifying ingredient, the molecules in each liquid will prefer to stay separate. Three things in particular are the best to use: mustard, honey, or egg yolks.
“Raw egg yolk?!” you gasp. Yes, there is a potential risk of salmonella when consuming raw eggs, but just be sure to use high-quality, fresh eggs (not only for safety purposes, but also for flavor, and to support humane and sustainable egg production), and pay attention to kitchen safety — i.e., don’t leave the eggs or your dressing out on the counter unrefrigerated.
When emulsifying, first add your vinegar, your emulsifier, and your other flavoring ingredients. Whisk to combine. Next, pour the oil in very slowly — it takes time to incorporate it smoothly into your base — all the while whisking vigorously to force the molecules to mix and mingle together.
If you think you are ready, try making this easy French vinaigrette and keep it in your back pocket to use over and over again so you won’t need to resort to any of the unhealthiest store-bought salad dressings.