The Perfect Vinaigrette

July 31st, 2009 at 5:05 pm

Photograph courtesy of Brianna Tittel

“A vinaigrette is one of the simplest preparations in the sauce lexicon.  At its most basic, it requires only two ingredients: oil and vinegar.  However, as many accomplished cooks can attest, turning these ingredients into a dressing that transforms unadorned greens into a finished, well-balanced salad isn’t simple at all.  Vinaigrettes can sometimes seem a little slip-shod: harsh and bristling in one bite, dull and oily in the next.  The best ones do the job quietly, complementing the greens without dominating them or engaging in combat.”

The excerpt above was taken from a recent article in Cook’s Illustrated magazine.  I thought it described the purposes and problems of vinaigrettes perfectly.  The article inspired me to share with you one of my simplest vinaigrette recipes.  I use it almost daily this time of year as a light dressing for salads, or to top steamed veggies such as carrots or asparagus or farmer’s market green beans.  It makes a terrific sauce for steamed new potatoes as well.

Mustard Vinaigrette

  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tbs. red or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs. Dijon or honey mustard (honey mustard will make the dressing sweeter)
  • 1 tbs. minced shallot or red onion
  • 1 tbs. minced fresh herbs such as dill, parsley, basil, rosemary, or thyme (dill is my favorite!)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together oil, vinegar, and mustard rapidly until emulsified and smooth.  Then add the shallot, herbs, and salt/pepper.  If you don’t have a shallot or fresh herbs on hand, you can leave them out.  However I think the vinaigrette has a great deal more body and depth of flavor with them.

Here’s some other handy tips for dressing salads:

  • Squeeze the juice of a lemon over any kind of salad.  It just brightens up the overall flavor.  Then drizzle with olive oil to mellow out the lemon’s acidity.
  • For hearty salads with toppings such as walnuts, pears, and cheeses (think fall-type salads), the more robust flavor of balsamic vinegar is a perfect accompaniment.  I have an aged balsamic (it’s older than me!) that I reserve only for drizzling on tender greens in the fall and winter months.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for different types of oils at markets and specialty food stores.  Olive oil infused with a citrus rind is delicious poured over salads with fruit.  Oils with rosemary, thyme, or garlic lend wonderful flavor to roasted chicken or meat. 

I’ve found that by using unique olive oils or vinegars, or just making my own dressings and vinaigrettes, I rarely buy bottled salad dressing from the store anymore.  Once you get a basic dressing down, it opens up the doors to all kinds of creative variations.  Have fun experimenting!

Green Beans


  1. Oooh, thanks for this – I will print it to keep it handy in the kitchen. I always forget the quantities. Love the site!

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