How To Make a Basic Vinaigrette
The time has come for you to embrace homemade salad dressing — starting with this vinaigrette. You don’t need a recipe, and you don’t even really need measuring spoons — all you need is a basic understanding of how oil and vinegar work together. Here is everything you need to know.
The Basic Vinaigrette Formula
The most basic ratio for making a salad vinaigrette is the following.
- one part vinegar (or other acid)
- three parts oil
Using this basic formula there are almost endless variations. For instance, you could use one tablespoon of cider vinegar and three tablespoons of olive oil. Or you could make a big batch of dressing and use 1/4 cup of vinegar mixed with 3/4 cups olive oil. Or use ounces, or milliliters, or the side of a jam jar — this a ratio, so you can use the means of measuring the ingredients that you prefer.
Choosing the Oil
Use a tasty oil to make your vinaigrette — any tasty oil. This can be a fancy extra-virgin olive oil you just picked up at the farmers market, or a mild-flavored one that you really like from Trader Joe’s. Just about any oil that remains a liquid at room temperature can work. Some examples to inspire you:
- Walnut oil
- Sesame oil
- Avocado oil
- Sunflower seed oil
- Pumpkin seed oil
It doesn’t need to be particularly fancy or expensive — it just needs to be an oil with a flavor you like.
If you don’t like very strong, intense flavors with your salad, stick with more neutral-flavored oils like grapeseed or regular olive oil. Or, try combining a small amount of a strongly flavored oil with a milder-flavored oil.
Choosing the Vinegar
Anything goes for the vinegar or acid, but the same rule applies: Pick something tasty. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Red wine vinegar
- Champagne vinegar
- Rice vinegar
- Balsamic vinegar
- Fresh-squeezed lemon, lime, or other citrus juices
It can also be fun to experiment with interesting new flavors of vinegar that you come across. Again, as long as you enjoy the flavor, it will likely make a good vinaigrette.
Just avoid plain distilled white vinegar. It has a very strong, harsh flavor that isn’t generally very good in vinaigrettes.
Seasoning Your Vinaigrette
Oil and vinegar are the base of the vinaigrette, but they need a little help if they’re going to really make a salad appetizing. If you’re new to making salad dressings at home, try starting out with just adding some simple salt and pepper. Even with just these two seasonings, you’ll be surprised at how well they will round out the vinaigrette.
From there, you can start amping up your vinaigrette with all sorts of ingredients.
- Mustard: A spoonful of mustard adds a nice tanginess; Dijon mustard is most traditional for a French vinaigrette.
- Miso: A small scoop of miso adds a mellow, salty-sweet flavor.
- Herbs: Fresh herbs give vinaigrettes a punch of brightness.
- Alliums: Minced garlic or shallots add pungency.
- Sweetener: If you like a bit of sweetness in your salads, add some jam, honey or maple syrup.
It’s hard to go wrong when making a vinaigrette, and you’ll learn your own tastes and preferences the more you make them.
Mixing Together Your Vinaigrette
Once you’ve settled on the ingredients going into your vinaigrette, it’s time to whisk everything together. Oil and vinegar will naturally separate into two separate layers, but when we’re making a salad, we want them to bind together so they coat a salad evenly and give us a uniform flavor as we’re eating.
Combining oil and vinegar so they bind together to create an almost creamy concoction is called emulsifying, and we can do this in one of three ways:
- whisk the ingredients together in a bowl
- shake them together in a jar
- blend them with a blender
None of these will create a stable emulsion — one that doesn’t separate back into its component parts (like mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce) — so be sure to use your vinaigrette before it separates back into oil and vinegar. If that happens, simply shake to recombine the vinaigrette before using.
3 Ways to Whisk a Vinaigrette
You can make a vinaigrette by whisking it together in a bowl, shaking it together in a jar, or blending it with a blender. Here’s more information about all three:
Whisk with a fork or whisk
- Best for: Making a single salad for lunch or dinner.
- What to do: Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl or right in the salad bowl. Tilt the bowl and whisk the vinaigrette quickly for a few seconds. First you’ll see bubbles of the oil and vinegar break into each other, and then the vinaigrette will become uniform. The vinaigrette will quickly separate back into oil and water, so use it right away.
Shake in a jam jar
- Best for: Making a large batch of vinaigrette to use throughout the week.
- What to do: Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar or other container with a lid. Screw on the lid and shake the jar vigorously for a few seconds until the vinaigrette comes together. Use what you need for your salad, then store the rest in the fridge. The oil and vinegar will separate as it sits, so you’ll need to re-shake the vinaigrette every time you use it.
Blend in a blender or with an immersion blender
- Best for: Making a vinaigrette with solid ingredients, like garlic or fruit; the blender mixes them in completely and makes your vinaigrette very smooth.
- What to do: Combine the vinaigrette ingredients in a blender or use an immersion blender. Blend until the vinaigrette is smooth and uniformly combined. A blended vinaigrette will still gradually separate back into its layers, so be sure to use the vinaigrette right away.
Tasting and Adjusting Your Vinaigrette
Before you actually use your vinaigrette to dress your salad, be sure to give it a taste. This is your moment to change the ratio of vinegar and oil, add more salt and pepper, or make any other last-minute adjustments.
Since tasting a vinaigrette on its own can give you a skewed idea of its flavor, taste it by dipping the edge of one of the greens into the vinaigrette. This will give you a much better idea of how your vinaigrette will taste with the finished salad.
The Best Way to Store a Vinaigrette
Store vinaigrettes in a jar or other container with a tight lid so that it’s easy to shake it up again when you need it. If you made a basic vinaigrette with just olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper, you can stash it on the counter or in the cupboard for several weeks. If any of the ingredients in your vinaigrette were previously refrigerated or are fresh, like lemon juice or minced shallots, then store it in the refrigerator up to five days.
Beyond Basic Vinaigrettes to Try
How To Make a Basic Vinaigrette
Makesabout 1 cup
- 3/4 to 1 cup
olive oil, extra-virgin olive oil, or any good-tasting oil
- 1/4 cup
good-tasting vinegar or lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon
Optional extras (choose 1 or 2, to taste): 1 minced shallot, 1 minced or grated garlic clove, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon grainy mustard, 1 to 2 tablespoons minced herbs, 1 to 2 tablespoons finely grated cheese, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon honey
Measuring cups and spoons
Bowl, blender, or jar with lid
Whisk, fork, blender, or immersion blender
Measure all ingredients into a bowl, blender, or jar.
Combine the vinaigrette: If using a bowl, use a fork or whisk to rapidly blend the vinaigrette together. If using a jar, top with the lid and shake until the vinaigrette is combined. If using a blender, blend until the vinaigrette is thoroughly combined.
Taste the vinaigrette: Dip a leaf of salad into the vinaigrette and give it a taste; tasting the dressing with the greens gives you a better idea of how the vinaigrette will taste with a salad than if you taste it on its own.
Adjust the taste: Add more olive oil for a more mellow flavor, more vinegar or lemon juice for more tartness, and more of any of the other ingredients to taste. Whisk, shake, or blend to combine.
Use the vinaigrette: For a side salad for 2 to 4, start with a tablespoon of dressing, toss, and continue adding until the greens are evenly coated and look glossy. Serve immediately.
Store the vinaigrette: Transfer leftover vinaigrette to a jar or other container with a lid (if it's not already in a jar). If the vinaigrette contains any fresh ingredients, like lemon juice or minced shallots, store it in the fridge. Vinaigrettes will keep for 3 to 5 days; shake to recombine the vinaigrette before using.