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Lessons from the Test Kitchen: Vinaigrette

During this time of year, our taste buds tend to gravitate toward lighter fare that’s especially flavorful. Fresh main-dish salads naturally fit the bill, and it’s a great time to experiment with vinaigrettes to enhance the peak produce in season. But vinaigrettes aren’t just for salads. Think of them as a sauce, especially for grilled fish, chicken and vegetables.

A basic vinaigrette is simple to prepare. The classic oil to vinegar ratio is three parts oil to one part vinegar, but feel free to play with these amounts. If you prefer a vinaigrette that has a bit more punch, use a ratio that is closer to two to one.

Start with an acid, such as your favorite vinegar and/or citrus juice. Sharper vinegars include apple cider and wine vinegars, but you can also try milder options such as Champagne, balsamic, rice and sherry vinegars. Add an emulsifier, typically Dijon mustard, which will hold the oil with the vinegar. And lastly, reach for extra virgin olive oil or a neutral-flavored oil such as vegetable oil.

When making a vinaigrette, whether you prepare it in a blender or by hand with a whisk, it’s crucial in the beginning to add about half the oil drop by drop. This will help bind the vinaigrette. Thereafter, feel free to pour in the oil in a slow, steady stream.

Your favorite seasonings can be added at the end. Experiment with fresh herbs, spices and cheese, or add sweetness with fresh berries, honey or brown sugar. For a savory vinaigrette to serve with a main dish, add a touch of heat such as fresh chiles, chipotles, hot sauce or ginger. Minced almonds or walnuts will also add a bit of texture. The possibilities are truly endless. Happy cooking!