In the winter, heavy sauces like béchamel, gravy, and marinara provide comforting warmth and fullness; however, in the summer, they can lead to feeling lethargic and overheated. In the summertime, one of the most versatile sauces is the vinaigrette; at its most basic, this sauce is just vinegar and oil. The viscosity of the oil pairs brilliantly with the acidity and lightness of the vinegar, producing a sauce that is light, creamy, and perfect for hot weather. Here, experienced and artistic personal chef Danny G. Alberto shares tips to make a delicious vinaigrette from scratch:
To make any vinaigrette, the first thing to understand is the basic process behind it. A vinaigrette is an emulsion, which in cooking terms, means taking a liquid and a fat and mixing them in such a way that the molecules of each are evenly dispersed, leading to a smooth sauce. There are several ways to make an emulsion in cooking. Boiling or simmering stock with butter creates an emulsified pan sauce, blending eggs with oil creates mayonnaise, or in this case blending one part vinegar to three parts oil creates a basic vinaigrette.
In terms of equipment, the easiest way to make a vinaigrette is with a blender; pretty much any blender will suffice. Alternatively, a stick or immersion blender can be used in combination with a container large enough for the final batch size. The final batch size can be calculated by adding the vinegar measurement to the oil measurement. For example, to make four cups (one quart) of a vinaigrette, one would use one cup of vinegar and three cups of oil. As a general rule, use a container with some extra volume, since some vinaigrettes add extra ingredients that will increase the volume and vinaigrettes tend to foam when mixed.
Two of the easiest vinaigrettes to make are white wine balsamic vinaigrette and red wine vinaigrette; they involve very little in the way of ingredients. To make either, you will need white wine balsamic or red wine vinegar, blended oil, and salt. If you’d like, you can add diced shallots, tarragon, basil, lemon zest, or other aromatic ingredients, but they are not necessary.
The basic process is as follows:
- Put the vinegar in a blender, or in a container large enough for the estimated final batch size.
- Turn on the blender or begin mixing with the stick blender.
- Slowly pour the oil into the blender/container with the vinegar. If using a stick blender, move it around gently in circles to ensure all the vinegar is thoroughly mixed with the oil. It will appear smooth and have no droplets or pools of oil in it.
- Add salt, either while blending or stir in after, to taste.
If you decide to add aromatic ingredients, it’s best to stir them in after. Blending them can have undesirable effects, such as herbs turning the vinaigrette green or shallots becoming jagged and irregular in size. It is important to salt a vinaigrette properly, since oil tends to be bland and vinegar is highly acidic. The salt works to both add flavor to the oil and tone down the acidity of the vinegar.
Once the basic process of making a vinaigrette is mastered, the options become endless. To make a sweeter version, Danny Alberto recommends substituting juice for some of the liquid. For example, cranberry vinaigrette, which would pair well with bitter greens like kale or cabbage, can be made by taking half the vinegar and replacing it with cranberry juice. The result is a sweet, tart vinaigrette that would make the base for a wonderfully balanced salad. Another option might be an orange vinaigrette, made with orange juice, apple cider vinegar, and blended oil–perhaps even a touch of sesame oil–as a lighter sauce for chicken.
Learning to make a vinaigrette is a rewarding task, both from a culinary arts perspective and a food lover’s perspective. It allows for endless experimentation, letting the professional cook exercise their creative skills and letting the home cook create something light and simple to accent their summertime dishes. For anyone with a blender, a vinaigrette is an excellent introduction to the world of sauces beyond prepackaged bottles and packets of dressing.