How–To: Make a Basic Vinaigrette

February 16, 2020
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Making a simple vinaigrette is a great back pocket kitchen skill. It’s so simple, you don’t even need a recipe; all you need is a basic understanding of how oil and vinegar work together. Here is my guide to all things basic vinaigrette.

The Ratio for a Vinaigrette

There is a simple formula for making a basic vinaigrette – it’s one part vinegar or other acid (like lemon juice), mixed with three parts oil. For example, you could use one tablespoon of red wine vinegar and three tablespoons of olive oil. Or you could make a big batch of dressing! For that, use 1/4 cup of vinegar mixed with 3/4 cups olive oil.  

While this is the standard ratio that I was taught in culinary school, I personally love more acidic vinaigrettes. So feel free to use this ratio as a base and adjust to your liking.

Choosing your Oil + Vinegar

Oil: You can use any oil to make a vinaigrette. This can be a fancy extra-virgin olive oil you picked up while traveling somewhere new, or a mild-flavored one that you really like from Trader Joe’s. You can also use almond oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, or any other oil in your pantry for that matter. It certainly doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive – it just needs to be an oil with a flavor you enjoy. 

Vinegar: There may be an even greater opportunity to get creative with vinegars. Consider options like a sherry vinegar, cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, rice vinegar, or balsamic vinegar. Those varieties are all a good place to start, but don’t rule out citrus juice as well. I love lemon, lime, orange juice in a vinaigrette! The one type of vinegar I avoid when making a vinaigrette is plain distilled white vinegar- the flavor is too harsh and generally not a very good fit for vinaigrettes.

Simple Seasonings

While oil and vinegar are the base of the vinaigrette, they need a little help if they’re going to really going to shine. I always like to add a healthy pinch of salt and pepper to make a well rounded vinaigrette.  Other common add-ins for me are a minced shallot and a spoonful of whole grain or dijon mustard for an added tanginess. Fresh herbs are perfect in vinaigrettes along with minced garlic for an extra flavor punch. If you like a bit of sweetness in your dressing, try adding some honey or agave.

It’s a pretty foolproof process and it’s hard to go wrong when making a vinaigrette. You’ll quickly learn your own preferences as you begin to make them regularly. Check out my recipes for Lemon Dijon Vinaigrette and Basil Vinaigrette for more variations on this method!

Shake it Up

Combining oil and vinegar with force is called an emulsion. Typically this is done one of three ways: by shaking it together in a Mason jar, whisking the oil and vinegar together, or blending it with a blender. None of these will create a stable emulsion — one that doesn’t separate — so make sure to use your vinaigrette before it separates back into oil and vinegar. If that happens, simply shake to recombine the vinaigrette before using.