Make the dressing taste just the way you like it.
Although you can buy ready-made salad dressings, I think it’s nice to make your own salad dressing. This way you can make the dressing taste just the way you like it.
The classic proportions for a French vinaigrette are a ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice, so, for example, three tablespoons of olive oil to one tablespoon of vinegar. The simplest way to mix your vinaigrette is to place these ingredients shaken together until the mixture emulsifies.
This base dressing can then be seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper and flavoured with ingredients such as mustard, sugar (remember you only need a little), garlic, spring onion or chopped fresh herbs. It’s fun to experiment. For example, try substituting fresh orange juice or grapefruit juice for the vinegar for a distinctive citrus taste. The idea is to have a flavourful dressing which gives a little kick to your salad.
I like to make a large quantity of my favourite salad dressing, decant it into a clean, sterilised bottle or jar and keep it in the fridge, so it’s there ready and handy for me to use. One golden rule to remember is always dress the salad with the salad dressing just before serving. If you dress the salad too far ahead, it becomes soggy and we don’t want that, do we?
Guide to Vinegars and Oils for Salad Dressings
Deep brown in colour and with a distinctive mellow, sweet flavour, this comes from Italy. Authentic, artisanal balsamic vinegar, matured for at least 12 years, costs an absolute fortune and is used very sparingly indeed. For everyday use, look out for industrially produced balsamic vinegar labelled ‘aceto balsamico di modena’.
Made from cider, this is a delicate, mild vinegar with a sweet flavour of apples.
This traditional Spanish vinegar is made from sherry grape juice and has a distinctive nutty sweetness.
Red wine vinegar
Made from red wine, which gives this vinegar its rich red colour, this traditional French vinegar has an elegant tangy flavour.
White wine vinegar
Made from white wine, this pale gold-coloured vinegar has a delicate flavour.
A key Mediterranean ingredient, this is the oil made by pressing freshly picked olives. Many countries produce olive oil – famously Italy – and it ranges in flavour from mild and mellow to grassy, floral or sharp. My advice is to find a good quality extra virgin olive oil that you like the flavour of and to use that for your salad dressings.
A classic French oil, this is made from walnuts and has a rich, nutty flavour. Once opened, it deteriorates quickly, so should be stored in a cool, dark place and used up as quickly as possible. As it’s not cheap, it’s definitely something of a treat.