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How to Make a Simple Vinaigrette Dressing for Any Salad

someone pouring an oil based dressing onto a salad

Buying salad dressing is for suckers. Once you learn how easy it is to make at home, we think you’ll agree. Leave the preservative-filled bottle on the shelf, grab a jar, and let’s make a vinaigrette.

A good salad deserves a great dressing, and the store-bought stuff can’t compare to the homemade version. Given that making a dressing takes about as long as ripping the shrinkwrap off a bottle from the store, there’s no reason not to start making your own.

Vinaigrette: What It Is and How To Make It

We’re not paying attention to the more complicated salad dressings here. This isn’t about creamy emulsions full of raw egg and adventurous flavorings. Instead, we’re looking at the most simple salad dressings: the vinaigrettes.

At its core, a vinaigrette is a mixture of liquid fat and acid. The fat is often olive oil or a less flavorful salad oil, and the acid is often vinegar or citrus-based. To the oil and acid mixture, chefs often mince in herbs, garlic, and other seasonings.

The Base Recipe

Despite the natural tendency for oil and vinegar to repel one another, a vinaigrette is very easy to prepare. To make a traditional one, you’ll need three parts oil and one part vinegar. This ratio can be adjusted for personal preference but acts as a good starting point.

You’ll also want to gather salt, pepper, and any other flavorings you’d like to add. Garlic and herbs are traditional choices, but you can also use items like mustard or Worcestershire sauce. Just remember: If your flavorings add more acid, you might need more oil for balance.

Once you have all your ingredients gathered, use a small bowl to combine everything except the oil. Then, while whisking, slowly drizzle the oil in. Start with just a drop or two at a time. As the oil incorporates into the acidic ingredients, you might begin to add it faster. The dressing should thicken and form an emulsion so that it’s one uniform liquid rather than separated oil and vinegar.

Forming a true emulsion out of oil and vinegar can be a little tricky the first time out. If you have trouble, look for a recipe that includes mustard in the dressing. Mustard acts as a natural stabilizer and will allow you to form an emulsified salad dressing with less effort.

The Right Ingredients for Salad Dressings

salad dressing ingredients in a bowl surrounded by kitchen tools

Flavored oils and vinegar are becoming more and more trendy, with oil and vinegar tasting shops finding homes in many cities and towns. We suggest you find a few high-quality options you can reserve for making a vinaigrette at home. These are items you won’t want to cook with because the heat will denature their flavor.

We’re partial to olive oil for most salad dressings, although a neutral-flavored salad oil will work in many applications. Strongly flavored oils like sesame oil or sunflower seed oil are often used in lesser amounts. They act as a flavoring agent rather than as a base to your dressing.

With vinegar, it’s essential to pay attention to the level of acidity. Vinegar used in food preparation ranges. This means you might need a higher ratio of vinegar to oil when using a less acidic option. Of course, the best way to know is to taste as you go!

When it comes to herbs and seasonings, always include salt. Adding black pepper is usually a good idea, too. Minced garlic and fresh minced herbs like rosemary, thyme, or basil are beautiful additions, as well. Dried herbs will work in a pinch, but the fresh ones pack a bigger flavor punch.

How to Store Your Vinaigrette

After you make your vinaigrette, store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. The easiest way to store salad dressing is in a mason jar. The dressing will separate when it sits in the refrigerator, but fear not. When you’re ready to use it, vigorously shake the jar until the emulsion reforms. Then pour over your salad and enjoy!

A simple salad dressing is easy to make at home. Once you get the hang of it, we bet the store dressings start to taste as artificial as their plastic containers. So, keep your salads fresh—and your tastebuds happy—by making your own vinaigrettes.

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »
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