In minutes, Spanish sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallots and olive oil become a lively vinaigrette that blows right past bottled salad dressings. Recipe below.
Mark Bittman loves his lists. In a recent article, “Fresh Start for a New Year? Let’s Begin in the Kitchen”, The New York Times’ Minimalist lists 15 OUTS and INS for the pantry—things to get rid of and what to replace them with.
I love Bittman’s lists too. Oh, I don’t always agree with everything on his lists, including this one [canned beans are OUT?—I don't think so, and neither does über chef David Burke]. Invariably, though, something on each list makes me rethink how I do things in the kitchen, inspires me to try a new technique or explore a new ingredient.
And I’ll admit, one reason I love his lists is that invariably, at least one item on them makes me feel a little smug, because I’m already on the same page with him. This, for instance: “OUT Bottled salad dressing and marinades. The biggest rip-offs imaginable.” We haven’t bought bottled salad dressing in years. Making them, especially a simple vinaigrette, is just too darned easy to pay bottled dressing prices and get, well, bottled dressing flavor.
As an added bonus, you can generally pronounce all the ingredients in homemade dressing. Years ago, a potter friend of mine picked up the bottle of store-bought salad dressing I had just used to prepare a salad and started reading the ingredients. When he came to one multi-syllabic item in the list, he said he added that same ingredient to his glazes to help them stick to the unfired clay.
The ingredients we use at home are things you typically put into a bowl, not on it. And more often than not, they’re the very definition of simple. Marion makes one dressing by drizzling fresh lemon juice and olive oil over mixed greens, adding a little salt and little pepper, giving it all a quick toss and done. I have to measure things, but I still keep it pretty simple.
One example is this garlicky vinaigrette that I learned to make at the kitchen table of an old French woman in St. Louis. Her dog, a three-legged beagle named Jean-Pierre, only understood French commands.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with various vinegars and oils, along with fresh and dried herbs on occasion. You should too. As long as you keep the oil-to-acid ratio roughly 3-to-1, you should come up with something good.
I can’t remember where I first came across the recipe for the sherry Dijon vinaigrette below, but it didn’t originally call for shallots. Lots of dressing recipes do, but I’d always avoided them in the past. I know shallots are really more like the refined love child of onions and garlic, not as overpowering, but as much as I love cooked onions, I’m seldom a fan of them raw. I assumed that however good raw shallots might taste in the dressing, that taste would hang around to haunt me later.
Well, as fate would have it, when I was whipping up a dressing for a dinner party recently, a lonely little shallot was sitting on the kitchen counter and I figured what the heck. In it went. The results didn’t shout ONION, as I’d feared they might. Instead, this already good vinaigrette was just subtly livelier, brighter, more flavorful. And the well-mannered shallot didn’t hang around on the palate later. I was totally won over. I think you will be too.
Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette
Makes about 1/4 cup [enough for 4 to 5 side salad servings]
3 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1-1/2 teaspoons good quality Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk until completely combined. Done. You can mix ingredients and let rest for 15 minutes or so to let flavors really swap around, but this step can be skipped if time doesn’t permit.