Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Well-Dressed Salad

On the left, oil and vinegar. On the right, an emulsion.
I usually make a simple green salad for our classes. It's easy. It's sophisticated because it's...well dressed. :-) Vinaigrette is so useful that everyone should know how to make it. Unlike salad dressings in the bottle, it contains very few ingredients. It's simple to make too. Though chefs (and restaurant reviewers) make a big deal about broken vinaigrette, this isn't some kind of kitchen disaster for most of us. In fact, most of the time when I make a salad, I sprinkle on a little bit of vinegar, salt, pepper, and oil. Give it a toss. Done!

If you want to make a real vinaigrette, it's not much harder. It does take a little bit of patience. Or a blender. Wand or immersion blenders work particularly well for this. If you are making a small amount, enough for 2 servings, you'll need to do it the old-fashioned way, by hand, with a whisk.

We all know that oil and vinegar don't mix and the trick to vinaigrette is getting those two components to stay together. You can create an unstable emulsion with careful mixing but it won't hold together for very long. Enter mustard. Classically, it's Dijon mustard. It's an emulsifier, which means it gets oil and vinegar to stay together through some chemistry you don't need to understand (if you want to understand it, here's the link to Wikipedia's page on emulsion). Just know that it works.

The basic proportions are 1 teaspoon of mustard to 1 Tablespoon vinegar to 3-4 Tablespoons of oil. If you can remember this, you can always make salad dressing.

The method is as follows:
  • Dissolve the mustard in the vinegar. 
  • Start adding the oil a very little bit at a time, whisking as you add. If you add the oil too quickly, you may never get an emulsion to form with a whisk. In a blender, you don't have to be quite as careful because those quickly spinning blades mix together the oil and vinegar far more efficiently. If whisking, start adding the oil drop by drop. 
  • Once your emulsion forms, you can add the oil more quickly. You'll know the emulsion has formed because the you won't have two different liquids that separate but one creamy, cloudy liquid.
  • Season with salt and pepper. You can also add some fresh herbs now such as chopped parsley or basil.
How much dressing do you need for your salad? This depends on taste. I do not like my lettuce swimming in dressing so I go rather light, 1 teaspoon for a small salad and 2 Tablespoon for a entree-sized salad. You can drizzle it on and toss, but I like Bobby Flay's method the best. You drizzle the dressing over the sides of a bowl and then toss the greens against the sides of the bowl to coat the leaves with the dressing. You don't need much dressing and no part of the lettuce gets soaked.

No comments:

Post a Comment