As noted in this Salad Principles post, the revised formula for classic vinaigrette requires:
- Stingy use of acid
- Generous use of oil
- Judicious hand with salt
- Insanity with pepper
Here’s a guide to help you customize your version.
Classic Vinaigrette: Acid
- Cider is my go-to for most American and Northern European cuisine.
- Tarragon vinegar is my favorite for a more French version of a salad (which is usually just greens and dressing).
- Both cider and tarragon mix wonderfully with Dijon mustard, or the mustard of your choice (although I personally would skip the French’s yellow).
- Balsamic vinegar is my go-to for salads accompanying Italian meals.
- Rice vinegar is the natural choice for East Asian salads.
- Lemon brings wonderful sparkle to sturdy garlic-friendly cuisines, like Middle Eastern, Greek, Spanish, and Provençal; it’s also an excellent option for North African cuisine.
- Lime gets my vote for Caribbean, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and East and West African cuisine.
Classic Vinaigrette: Oil
- Extra virgin olive oil is meant for salads—NOT FOR COOKING. It has a relatively low smoking point, meaning that the oil will start to smoke when you heat it. If you’re going to spend big bucks for EVOO, then for heck’s sake don’t screw it up by heating it. And if you’re not spending big bucks, it’s probably not REAL evoo. Here’s a good article on the sort of scam that is extra virgin olive oil.
- Avocado oil is the next best thing.
- Walnut oil is lovely in a fall-ish salad with walnuts.
- Flaxseed oil doesn’t have much flavor, but it has a nice lightness to it, as does sunflower oil.
- Oils to avoid: Peanut, canola, corn, anything generic and referred to as “vegetable oil.”
Classic Vinaigrette: Salt and Pepper
Freshly ground in both cases is lovely, and in the case of pepper, essential. If you use salt from a bigger container, always pour it into your hand first, then pinch the right amount from there. Go sparingly. With pepper, all bets are off.
Finished classic vinaigrette goes great on a simple classic tossed salad; you’ll find a recipe for two variations at this link. I usually just make a small amount fresh every night for salad, but you can definitely make a bigger batch. Just be sure to shake it up really well before each use.