We think this is one of the best skills a home cook can have. Making your own salad dressing is extremely easy—you can even skip the whisking, if you want, and shake it in a jar—and the end result is far superior to what comes in a bottle, in our opinion. There are countless variations (like adding bacon drippings or making it creamy), but today we're laying the groundwork with the steps to a basic balsamic vinaigrette.
What You Need
salt and pepper
sugar (brown or granulated)
1. Pour about two tablespoons of vinegar into the bottom of the bowl. (These measurements will make enough vinaigrette for two large, main-dish salads, or four to six side salads.) We like to use the bowl we'll later use to toss the salad. Add a few pinches of salt (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon), a few grinds of fresh pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.
2. Begin whisking vigorously, and then drizzle in the olive oil (our whisk isn't moving because we were photographing at the same time...).
3. Make sure the olive oil is in a slow, thin stream, and whisk rapidly where it hits the vinegar (again, if we had an assistant, you'd see olive oil trickling in while we whisked).
4. A general rule of thumb is to use a 3:1 ratio of olive oil to vinegar. We prefer our vinaigrette more vinegary, so we use more like a 2:1 ratio. Which means about 1/4 cup olive oil.
5. As your vinaigrette thickens and becomes a paler shade of brown, stop and taste. You can add more olive oil if it's too acidic. If it separates while you're preparing the rest of dinner, don't worry. Just whisk it again to smooth it out.
6. Throw in your lettuce and use tongs to toss and coat the leaves.
Once you master the basic vinaigrette, you can experiment with all kinds of additions, like those in the last photo. Some options to consider:
• Substitute lemon juice for half of the vinegar (keeping the same overall amount of acid). We like lemon with lighter vinegars, like champagne or red wine.
• Add minced garlic to the vinegar before whisking in the olive oil.
• Add fresh herbs like thyme or dill.
• Add dijon mustard (whisk into the vinegar before adding the olive oil), which will also act as an emulsifier to help your vinaigrette come together and be less likely to separate.
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(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)