James Beard has proclaimed, “You can’t make a good salad without a good vinaigrette sauce.”
Often referred to as the “father of American cooking,” Beard was referring to what is commonly called French dressing – a thin, piquant sauce made by combining oil and vinegar with seasonings, and dating back to the 14th century. Whether it is called sauce or dressing, it remains the epitome of what the best-dressed salads are wearing.
Since couturiers delight in dictating fashion, why not embellish our salads from the last word in haute cuisine – especially when what Beard is advocating couldn’t be simpler. Like a basic black dress, the basics of vinaigrette are classic – oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. When we begin to accessorize, out come the pearls – even though, in the strictest sense, if we add anything else, it’s not pure vinaigrette.
Nevertheless, many chefs add mustard, garlic, herbs, spices and sweeteners, even though, according to Julia Child, “sugar is heresy.”
And so we must remind ourselves that “one man’s vinaigrette is another man’s poison.” Just remember, any salad dressing is only as good as its ingredients.
JAMES BEARD’S BASIC VINAIGRETTE SAUCE
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp. wine vinegar
6 tbsp. fruity olive oil
Blend ingredients together with a wooden spatula or fork. Then taste and add an ingredient if you feel the dressing needs it. Yield 1/2 cup. Will dress salad for 4.
JULIA CHILD’S SAUCE VINAIGRETTE
1/2 to 2 tbsp. good wine vinegar or a mixture of vinegar and lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dry mustard (optional)
6 tbsp. olive oil
big pinch of pepper
1 to 2 tbsp. minced green herbs such as parsley, chives, tarragon, basil, or a pinch of dried herbs (optional)
Either beat the vinegar or lemon juice in a bowl with salt and optional mustard until salt is dissolved, then beat in the oil by droplets and season with pepper, or place all ingredients in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly. Stir in the optional herbs and correct seasonings just before dressing salad.
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
1 tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 small shallots, chopped
1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in screw top jar and shake vigorously.
1/4 cup fresh ginger, grated fine
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup finely sliced scallions (white part and 1 in. of greens)
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
Combine all ingredients except oil in a blender or food processor; purée until smooth. With the blender or processor running, slowly add oil in a thin stream. Blend for an additional 15 seconds.
Adapted from Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins, Workman Publishing.
1 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup shelled walnut pieces, chopped coarsely
Combine mustard, vinegar and basil in the bowl of a food processor. Process for 1 minute, shut off motor, scrape down sides of bowl and process for 30 seconds longer. With the motor running, drizzle in oil in a slow, steady stream. When oil is incorporated, drop in walnuts and shut machine off immediately. Walnuts should not be discernible in the dressing. Process with short bursts of power until you achieve the desired texture.
LOW CALORIE DRESSING
2 tbsp. light olive oil
1/2 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. coarse-grained mustard
1 clove of garlic, pressed
1/4 cup chives, chopped fine
1/4 cup tarragon, chopped fine
1/4 cup parsley, chopped fine
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine in screw top jar and shake vigorously.