This classic salad dressing is easy to make, but variations may need a few days’ preparation.
The basic recipe for vinaigrette (from French vinaigre = vinegar) was given as far back as 1694 in the famous dictionary of the Académie française: it is a “type of cold sauce made of vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, parsley and chives”. The ratio of oil to vinegar is described as follows: “add oil like an emperor, vinegar like a beggar.” Or in other words, three to five tablespoons of oil and one tablespoon of vinegar, using only the best quality cold-pressed sunflower, olive, corn or rape seed oil and white wine vinegar. Add the rest according to taste – salt (not too much), pepper and herbs. The dressing should taste slightly acidic, a little salty, a bit tangy and herby and should emphasise the fresh flavours of the salad itself. This is how to make it: Mix the vinegar, salt and pepper with a balloon whisk until the salt has dissolved, then add the oil and finely chopped herbs. Mix together. And that’s it!
Of course, once we’ve mastered the basics we can go freestyle with the variations. The first is a teaspoon of mustard, which gives the whole thing a touch of heat and depth and prevents the emulsion from separating. A pinch of sugar or half a teaspoon of honey rounds the sauce out and neutralises excess acid. Tiny capers and finely chopped shallots turn the vinaigrette into a “sauce ravigote”. The white and / or yolk of a hardboiled egg complete a “French dressing”. Of course, the variations also include a range of finely chopped herbs: chervil, tarragon, dill, lovage and basil. Finely chopped spring onion (only the tender, white part) and diced, skinned tomato flesh also work well, as does a tablespoon of vegetable stock or lemon, lime or orange juice.
One of the most unusual vinaigrettes is the one served as house dressing by Gordon Ramsay in his restaurant in the Chelsea area of London: white wine vinegar, olive oil, shallots (halved, with skin and roots – they contain lots of flavour!), whole garlic bulbs (halved, with skin), thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, sugar and salt are mixed gently in a bowl and left to stand for 72 hours next to the oven. The gentle warmth helps to intensify and blend the flavours in the vinaigrette before the dressing is strained through a fine sieve.
Text: Rainer Meier