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Vibrant Vinaigrettes

Vibrant Vinaigrettes

Every cook likes to make these intoxicating dressings.

By FamilyTime

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At their most basic, vinaigrettes are emulsions of oil and vinegar, seasoned with salt and pepper, and whisked together so that they mix evenly. They are usually poured over raw salads, although they can be used to sauce cooked foods, too.

Thicker ingredients such as mustard, garlic, honey, and tomatoes stabilize a basic vinaigrette so that there is less chance of it separating. Regardless of the ingredients, all vinaigrettes should be whisked or shaken before they are poured over food.

Basic Vinaigrette
In France, home cooks learn to make vinaigrettes almost before anything else. It becomes one of a handful of elementary recipes he or she uses over and over again -- and must be made properly.

The classic French vinaigrette is three or four parts oil - nearly always olive oil - to one part vinegar - nearly always red or white wine vinegar. It's absolutely permissible to vary this ratio.

If you poured the oil and vinegar into a jar and left them alone, the oil would rise to the top and the vinegar (like water) would sink. Because of this, it's necessary to emulsify (blend) the two by whisking the oil into the vinegar, or shaking them together in a lidded bottle.

Season the vinaigrette with salt and a few grindings of pepper. Don't neglect the salt, especially. Without it, vinaigrettes are disappointingly bland. If you can, use sea salt, which has a pure, sharp flavor. It will not stay emulsified for too long, so dress the salad soon after whisking the vinaigrette.

How to Make and Serve Vinaigrettes
Begin by whisking the vinegar, lemon juice, and other seasonings in a small bowl or jar. Very slowly, almost drop by drop, add the oil, whisking constantly, until thickened and blended. As the vinaigrette thickens, add the oil in a steady stream.

You can also put the vinegar and seasonings in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake it. Add the oil in two or three additions, shaking after each one.

Vinaigrettes keep well in the refrigerator for several weeks. Shake or whisk and taste for seasoning before using.

Use vinaigrettes sparingly. They should coat the lettuce leaves lightly - not drench them. Drizzle the dressing over the greens, toss well, taste, and add more only if necessary.

Vinaigrette Variations
Beyond the classic vinaigrette are many variations. Use balsamic, sherry, or cider vinegar in place of or in addition to wine vinegar. Try orange or grapefruit juice. Use fruity olive oil or milder safflower or canola oil.

Flavor the vinaigrette with grainy or smooth mustard, shallots, scallions, fresh chopped herbs, sea salt, coarse peppercorns, chopped garlic, or finely chopped tomatoes. Taste it as you whisk and adjust the seasonings accordingly.

Other flavors added to vinaigrettes include chopped olives, pickles, capers, and anchovies. Concentrated meat or poultry stocks, fresh vegetable juices, and spoonfuls of port or brandy add interest, too. Use these to replace some of the oil.

For certain salads and sauces, sweeten vinaigrettes with honey, maple syrup, or molasses. A little sweetener goes a long way, so use a gentle hand.

Some cooks make spicy vinaigrettes with mild oil and hot peppers or pepper flakes. Others mix a little sesame oil with canola oil and blend it with rice vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame seeds for an Asian-flavored vinaigrette.

Consider the greens and the rest of the meal when planning the vinaigrette. Tender greens and boldly flavored foods demand gentle vinaigrettes. Robust greens and mild food hold up to zestier vinaigrettes.

Once you master making a basic vinaigrette, you will have conquered a valuable kitchen technique. Make them often -- you'll quickly come to prefer them to many bottled dressings and appreciate their endless variety!

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