How to Make a Simple Mustard Vinaigrette
One of the first things I learned to make when I was learning how to cook or should I say being taught how to cook was a simple vinaigrette. I was in my 20's and didn't even know at the time how much I would enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
I was dating this wonderful woman who lived in a studio on the Upper East Side of New York City whose kitchen was barely big enough for one let alone two adults. It was so tight that just preparing diner together was enough to create a romantic setting. Now in my current kitchen, my wife and I can be cooking a 5-course meal and not once bump into each other although I try every chance I get. There's something to be said for small kitchens. But I digress.
Thinking back, this friend was probably my first cooking teacher and the one who taught me how to enjoy good food and how much fun it can be in the kitchen. She taught me two simple lessons that I still preach about on my web site. One, use the freshest, best ingredients available and two, keep it simple. And although she was a very good cook, she had a few simple recipes up her sleeve that she could pull off at a moment's notice. One of them was a mustard vinaigrette.
This vinaigrette is so simple yet so delicious, I've been serving it to friends and family for the last 20 years and still get rave reviews. Maybe all my friends grew up like I did on those commercial brands of French and Thousand Island dressings. You know the ones that won't come out of the jar until you smack them a few times on the bottom and next thing you know you have a big funky glob of dressing on your plate.
Mustard Vinaigrette Basic Ratios
I did a little research on the basics of preparing a simple vinaigrette to see how my tried and true recipe stood up to the pros. What follows are some tips on making a basic vinaigrette that can be your starting point for a plethora of vinaigrettes that can be prepared by altering the ingredients.
Almost all the recipes I found call for a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar. This is a safe ratio to memorize for general knowledge but shouldn't keep you from coming up with your own. When making this basic vinaigrette for myself, I rarely measure it out. I just add the ingredients, taste, and adjust. Now this isn't the best way for beginners to learn, but once you get the basic idea of what it should taste like, go for it. If I did measure it out, I bet I would come up with a ratio of slightly less oil to vinegar than 3 to 1.
The purest form of vinaigrette would be oil, vinegar, and a little salt & pepper mixed right in a bowl of greens. When I was a kid, we used to go to this Italian restaurant; it was more like a pizza joint with tables in the back. They would serve a salad of iceberg lettuce, 2 slices of cucumber, and a rock hard wedge of tomato with nothing on it. On the table would be a cruet of olive oil and a cruet of red wine vinegar. The waiter would come around and ask if I would like him to dress it. Of course I wanted him to dress it and toss it too. He was an expert. I figured he must have dressed thousands of these salads so he must know what he's doing. Besides, at that age I had no idea the proper ratio was 3 to 1.
Slightly more complicated would be to introduce an emulsifier to our vinaigrette. What a horrible sounding word to something that tastes so good. Why would you add an emulsifier like mustard to your vinaigrette? One reason might be to add an additional layer of flavor. Another would be to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. That's what an emulsifier does. First you combine the vinegar and mustard, season with salt and pepper and then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking the ingredients together.
What Type of Oil To Use?
There is no reason to use good olive oil when making a mustard vinaigrette. Why?
The mustard overpowers the taste of the olive oil. You might as well use vegetable oil or canola oil. You do however want to use decent French mustard with lots of flavor. I typically use a Dijon mustard. If you do insist on using olive oil, be careful not to over beat the olive oil when combining with the other ingredients so not to lose its delicate flavor and make it bitter. You may want to try making a blend of olive oil and some other type of oil. I like to mix my vinaigrettes in a used jar with a cover for easy storage. Usually I save an old mayonnaise or baby food jar. If the dressing gets low, just add some more ingredients, taste, and adjust the amounts. Some recipes insist on using a whisk to combine ingredients although I find a fork works just fine.
What vinegar you use is your choice and depends on what you are putting the vinaigrette on. I prefer a Balsamic vinegar, but you can use red or white, cider, flavored, infused, or even try no vinegar at all and substitute a citrus juice. (but then it wouldn't be called a vinaigrette, would it?)
The Other Ingredients I Use
The other ingredients I typically add are garlic, dried parsley, and dried thyme. Some recipes call for chopping the garlic, some mincing it, some pulverizing it with a mortar and pestle. I either smash it with the side of my chef's knife or use my handy, dandy garlic press which is fun to use, but a pain to clean.
These are the basic ingredients I use, but you should not limit yourself from experimenting with a variety of herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Just look in any cookbook or cooking magazine and you'll find dozens of variations. Here's my basic vinaigrette with measured amounts, but as I said earlier, I usually just eyeball it, taste, and adjust. If you make this enough times, you'll be doing the same in no time at all.