All Dressed Up, Many Places to Go
Herb and Shallot Vinaigrette
Just as the right accessory can add panache your outfit, the right salad dressing can do the same for a salad, or even an entire meal. Just as with shoes or jewelry, salad dressing is an opportunity to show your flare, to infuse a meal with your personal sense of style.
I haven't purchased salad dressing in years. A custom designed-to-the-meal salad dressing can be whipped up in a matter of seconds, even faster than it takes to get through the checkout line at the grocery. When I make my own, I know the ingredients it contains... no multi-syllabic chemical preservatives, extenders or thickeners. And at pennies to the dollar, the homemade version leaves more discretionary capitol for other things I really care about. Like nice wine.
Roasted Chicken and Spring Vegetable Salad with Homemade Buttermilk Dressing
I can almost bet that you already have what it takes to get started creating your own salad dressings. Do you have a jar? Any old empty jam jar or salad dressing bottle will do. That and a few basic pantry items, and you are set to go. But just as in the fashion world, there are a few simple rules of thumb in regard to making salad dressing.
- One part acid to three parts oil. If you are working to reduce fat in your diet, you can move toward equalizing the percentages here. Be warned: You will end up with a twangy, puckery dressing. My preference is to keep to the original proportions and just use it in moderation.
Even with these two foundational components, the sky's the limit. Imagine all the varieties of liquid acids:
- Vinegar- there are zillions of kinds (balsamic, sherry, cider, rice wine, pomegranate, fruit flavored, white wine and red wine, etc.)
- Lemon juice
- Orange juice
- Lime juice
- Buttermilk (you may think of this as creamy, and it is, but with a fairly high level of acidity)
As an aside, when My Baby and I combined households our "blended pantry" contained 17 various vinegars. I'm happy to report that we've edited our vinegar wardrobe down to a mere 14 kinds.
Now imagine all the kinds of oils:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Vegetable oil
- Nut and seed oils (walnut, flax, hazelnut, peanut, sesame, etc.)
- Clarified butter (don't snicker... it can be delicious on the right salad)
Go ahead and eyeball it in your jar. Do you have about 1/4 part acid to 3/4 parts oil? No measuring is necessary... you'll easily be able to tell by looking. Leave enough room for a good, vigorous shake, and simplify cleanup by eliminating a mixing bowl and whisk. With those building blocks in place, now you get to be an artist. As you think about the rest of your meal, add as many or as few of these other ingredients as inspiration calls for:
An emulsifier is nice to create a homogenous blend, add a lush mouthfeel and to add flavor:
- Mustard (grainy, dijon, honey mustard, yellow, brown, etc.), a teaspoonful per jar
- Egg (read this for current food safety information regarding raw egg)
- Cheeses, ground or grated
- Nut butters (peanut, almond, etc.), a well-stirred spoonful... stir first or it will take forever to combine with the oil and vinegar
Other herbs and flavorings round things out and add zip and personality. Add up to a tablespoon of any of these, alone or in combination:
- Any fresh herb, chopped finely
- Any dried herb or spice, crushed or ground
- Shallot, finely minced
- Garlic, pressed or minced
- Soy sauce, a teaspoon or less
- Anchovies, chopped fine or large
- Worcestershire sauce, a few drops
- Finely minced or crushed fruit (cherries, raspberries, strawberries, etc.)
- Citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, etc.)
Perhaps a little sweetening may be called for. This can sometimes be the difficult to define but magic secret balancing ingredient. Depending on your aim, between 1/2 - 2 teaspoonfuls may be nice:
- Agave syrup
- Maple syrup
- Barley malt syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Apple or white grape juice concentrate
Because vegetables tend to need a little zip to maximize their potential, I never, almost ever, make a salad dressing without a good dose of these two things:
- Salt (kosher or sea), a healthy heaping teaspoonful or so to 10 oz. of dressing, depending on saltiness of other ingredients
- Freshly ground pepper (black or mixed peppercorns)
Homemade Caesar Salad with Romaine Lettuce from our Garden
Another couple of exciting flashes: Most terrific salad dressings also make terrific marinades for meat or grilled or roasted vegetables. You'll find them to be versatile sauces as well. And just like you, salads warm or cold, with an added protein component or not, all come alive and exhibit great verve when properly dressed.
True to our Name, We at Sticks Forks Fingers Serve Caesar Salad in its Whole Leaves and Eat it with Our Fingers!