Vinaigrettes -- Because the Most Important Aspect of Cooking Is Flavor



Two of the most important fixtures in any kitchen are oils and vinegars. As is true in a chemistry lab a fundamental formula is bases and acids. Vinaigrettes are fundamental sauces for any cook. Vinaigrettes are used to dress all kinds of salads, from tender green leaves to robust crunchy vegetables and even sweet fresh fruits and thinly sliced raw or smoked fish.

Probably the most common made and consumed oil/water emulsion is the simple oil and vinegar salad dressing or vinaigrette. The tangy flavor of this dressing is due, of course, to vinegar which gets its name from the French “vin aigre” or “sharp (sour) wine.” It is in essence a water solution of acetic acid, which gives its characteristic “tang” on the tongue. A vinegar and oil emulsion is used in green salads to coat a large surface area of leaves. It is as much at home to with seafood where the light astringency of vinegar and the wonderful smoothness of fat laden oil compliments the fresh fish. Vinaigrettes stand on a simple solid base that all great recipes share at their core.

The order of ingredients affects lots of taste. For example, in garlic or ginger vinaigrette, if the root is added either after the emulsion is made or directly into the oil a strong and slightly pungent taste will result. The oil envelopes and coats the root slowing the acids in the vinegar from breaking down the roots and allowing flavors to marry together evenly as they diffuse out their liquids into the vinegar. Sometimes, as with fresh herbs, retaining the color of the herb calls for protecting them from the acids breaking down the chlorophyll. For this, adding the herbs to the oil is necessary to give the vinaigrettes that bright green contrast to a tomato salad. So a rule of thumb is to look at the application of the vinaigrette to determine the desired results in flavor and appearance thus deciding the steps in preparation. Most recipes call for mixing vinegars and flavors and then slowly adding in the oils.

Ingredients open up a world of possibilities for flavor variations. Take for example, mustard. First we have mustard seed, ground into mustard powder or pulverized lightly in vinegar for whole grain mustard. White wine is added for Dijon mustard and honey mustard is misted with sweet honey. If ever there was a reason to experiment with flavor, it is oils. The change in weight or fat content contributes to its character and strength. Some oils tend to dominate its flavors such as extra virgin olive oil making it a perfect compliment to strong balsamic vinegar, but too overbearing for light herbal vinegars. Corn oil produces a rich native taste to many dressings as does peanut and canola and tends not to disguise and instead let lighter tonalities shine through. Vinegars such as balsamic and sherry both start with complex bases as both come from fortified win stocks. Oriental rice vinegar together with  sesame oil gives characteristic taste to Asian vinaigrettes. Apple vinegar, as the name suggests, gives wonderful fruit filled sweetness to the classic recipe. Dozens of possible flavor combinations can be made from base recipes. Start adding ingredients like herbs, vegetables, fruit flowers and the possibilities are seemingly endless.

The thing to remember is that cooking is fun and an opportunity to learn. Starting in the basic realm of vinaigrettes is where nuances in flavors are first learned and identified by any cook. The palette of any well rounded cook has spent many joyous hours deciphering the scrolls of flavors with their tongues. Many believe it is one of life’s greatest labors of love.

RECIPES

Basic

1/3 c. vinegar

1 c. oil

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

 

Mustard

1/3 c. vinegar

1 c. oil

1/4 c. mustard

S&P to taste

 

Herb

1/2 c. vinegar

2 c. oil

1/4 c. fresh herbs, chopped

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

 

Spice

1/3 c. vinegar

1 c. oil

2 tsp. ground spice

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. pepper

 

All of the recipes included are prepared by slowly adding oil into the vinegar always at a light drizzle and constant whisking. The order of ingredients is left for application and interpretation. Salt and pepper are always to taste as most recipes will need adjustments according to palettes and needs. Remember always the most important element in cooking is flavor.

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