A vinaigrette has two main components, oil and an acid—usually vinegar or lemon juice. Typically there are other players: mustard, a sweetener of some kind, probably some herbs and seasonings. But the oil and acid are non-negotiable. Since these two ingredients are so important, you might think the oil need be extra virgin olive, and the acid an aged, expensive vinegar. But you’d would be wrong. You can make an amazing vinaigrette with cheap vegetable oil and aggressive white vinegar.
On their own, neither ingredient tastes like much. Vegetable oil provides little but body, while white vinegar tastes of nothing but acetic acid. Both are utilitarian, but that’s okay. Making a delicious vinaigrette with these two humble pantry staples is easy—you just have to increase the amount of other stuff in your recipe.
My standard vinaigrette template calls for a ratio of 4 parts oil, 4 parts acid, 1 part mustard, and 1 part liquid sweetener, with herbs and other seasonings added to taste. It works well if you’re using flavorful oil and vinegar, but will read as overly tart and one-dimensional with the two cheapies. To compensate, decrease the oil and acid to 2 parts each, and choose a mustard and sweetener with a distinct flavor. By pairing flavorful a mustard and sweetener with utilitarian oil and the plainest vinegar, the mustard and sweetener are able to shine, resulting in a cleaner flavor profile. (If you want more dimension, add some herbs or spices.)
And “distinct flavor” doesn’t have to mean “expensive.” Honey is distinct and cheap, as is maple syrup, as is a syrup made with wine, or orange peels, or brown sugar. Just avoid a simple syrup made with table sugar, as it doesn’t bring much flavor other than sweetness.
Similarly, the mustard need not be pricey. Your favorite dijon will work just fine, as will anything stone-ground. Both of these mustards not only come packed with flavor, they come packed with mucilage, which sounds disgusting but is the thing that keeps your dressing from separating.
Finally, though whisking has a certain romantic charm, I highly recommend you emulsify your dressing by shaking it in a jar. Doing so works way better than any whisk or “emulsifying bottle” I’ve ever encountered, and you get a nice arm workout in the process.
Simple, Cheap Honey Dijon Vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1 pinch of salt
Add everything to a jar, close the jar, and shake to emulsify. That’s it. You’re done. Go eat a salad.
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