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A Magical Vinaigrette

Stabilize your bowl

The primary action in this mission is whisking while pouring, which (unless you have a highly trained assistant orangutan) uses up all your available hands. Unfortunately, you still have to hold down the bowl, otherwise it can escape onto the floor, onto your dog’s head, or out the window.

I’m sorry to tell you this, but the only way to solve this problem is to grow a third hand. It feels a little weird, but won’t take very long. Okay, are you ready? Close your eyes, then concentrate really hard…

Wait! I just remembered! There is an easier way.

Grab a kitchen towel. Get it wet. Wring it out, and twist it into a long rope. Then coil it on the counter and set your bowl in it. Now your bowl won’t go anywhere while you’re busy whisking and pouring.

Whew, that was a lot easier than growing a third hand.

Put mustard in the bowl

Mustard is your emulsifier—the unifying element that will bring water and oil together. So start with some of that in the bowl. (Here, I’m using some fancy smoked mustard I bought on a trip to Canada.)

To decide how much mustard you need, first decide how much vinaigrette you want to make. I usually make about a cup, so I can have dressing for a whole week. (Vinaigrette keeps really well in the fridge, as long as you don’t add stuff like fresh garlic and fresh herbs to it.)

A cup of vinaigrette uses 1 tablespoon of mustard. If you’re making half a cup, use half a tablespoon. You get the idea!

Measure and add an acidic water-based liquid

What’s an acidic water-based liquid? Vinegar, basically. Or lemon juice. Here I’m demo-ing with fig balsamic vinegar, but you could also white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or lemon juice.

“Acidic water-that liquid” is kind of a mouthful though, so the pros just say “acid.” Now when you see this in cookbooks, you’ll know they’re talking about vinegars or citrus juice, as opposed to, say, battery acid.

How much to measure out? The standard ratio for vinaigrette is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. So if we are making 1 cup of vinaigrette, we’ll need ¼ cup of acid.

Put that in the bowl and mix it smoothly with the mustard. If you don’t have a whisk, just use a fork.

Measure your oil

Remember that ratio I mentioned in the last step?

Again, it’s 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. We just used ¼ cup of vinegar, so we’ll need ¾ cup of oil. Here, I’m using extra virgin olive oil.

Measure it out, but don’t add it to the bowl yet. That’s because we are now at the moment of truth, and you need to know a key trick to ensure success.

Add oil slowly to the bowl

The key trick is patience.

You see, if you add oil too fast, the emulsifier can’t “find” the oil fast enough. Each emulsifier molecule needs to find an oil molecule, attach itself, and then attach to a water molecule to get the two to mix. And it needs to do this before the oil finds other oil droplets to clump to. If there’s too much oil, they will seek out each other instead, forming beads and floating to the top. When this happens, the pros say the vinaigrette has “broken.”

A broken vinaigrette is totally salvageable (in fact, i’ll show you next how to do it) but it requires a bit more work. If you’re patient and add the oil slowly, you won’t have to do this extra work.

So watch the video to see how I am adding the oil. I add a tiny bit, whisk it until it’s all disappeared, and then add a bit more. Keep doing this and the mixture will slowly thicken and form a beautiful, uniform, glossy dressing. The more oil you add, the thicker it will be. But if it’s too thick, add a bit of water at the end to thin it out until you get the consistency you like.

If your vinaigrette “breaks,” here’s how to fix it

If you’re whisking and whisking very hard but the oil doesn’t seem to want to mix with the vinegar, get out a second bowl. Add a tiny bit of mustard to it, then slowly whisk the broken vinaigrette into the new bowl, a tiny bit at a time.

This second time around, the presence of the extra emulsifier should help things unify. The extra mustard won’t affect the taste that much; it’s main role here is to un-break your heart. I mean your vinaigrette.

And that’s it! You’ve just made some silky smooth, extremely scientifically advanced vinaigrette. Here’s what I like to use it for:

  • Salad (the easy choice)
  • Cold chicken (it’s great on leftover fried chicken, especially)
  • Blanched vegetables
  • Grain or pasta salad
  • As a dip for bread, pita, carrot sticks, etc.
  • Cut an avocado in half, put some vinaigrette in the well where the pit was, and dig in!
  • Dress a steak
  • As a dip for fries or roast potatoes (seriously, it’s amazing—the British are totally onto something with the custom of eating fries with malt vinegar!)

Enjoy your vinaigrette!

Nicely done!

You made some delicious food. Now go enjoy it!

P.S. - If you want to show off your work on the lesson gallery, send me a picture.

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