Every vinaigrette is made of three components: Fat, acid, and seasoning. That’s right. Every. Single. One. So why are you still buying the bottled stuff instead of making your own?
The beautiful thing about a homemade vinaigrette is that you don’t really need a recipe or measuring spoons to create a great one. In fact, it’s ideal to add ingredients pinch by splash until you’re happy with the result.
A good place to start is 1:1, one part acid mixed with one part oil. You can adjust accordingly: More acid for a tangier dressing, more oil for a mellow flavor. I personally like one part acid to three parts oil, but only you know what flavor you like, so start with 1:1 and edit from there.
The type of acid and oil you use is entirely up to you, but keep in mind that the whole is absolutely the sum of its parts, here. Your vinaigrette is only as good as the oil and vinegar that goes into it. An extra virgin olive oil and a good balsamic vinegar is always a great place to start.
Now that you’ve settled on your ingredients, it’s important to understand how they interact. Oil and vinegar naturally separate, but a vinaigrette calls for them to bind together. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a bland oil slick on your salad, and a jar full of flavored vinegar.
Forcing oil and vinegar to combine is called emulsion, which is fancy-speak for “blending all ingredients together.” While emulsion can be done with a whisk and bowl, I prefer to pour all of my ingredients directly into a screw-top jar and shake them together like a bartender, or a vinaigrette mixologist.
This method simplifies the emulsion process, and turns your mixing bowl into an air-tight storage container to keep leftover vinaigrette. (It also cuts down on dishes—win!).
The basic foundation of your vinaigrette is set, so now is the time to experiment with flavorings and seasoning. Start by ramping up taste with salt and pepper (a must), then try garlic or your favorite herbs. For a creamier dressing, add a dollop of mayo or Dijon mustard, or add some sweetness to round out a vinaigrette’s naturally harsh flavors with honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, or plain ol’ white sugar.
Shake up your dressing between each addition and give it a taste. When you’re satisfied, give it one final, stiff shake and use it immediately, before it separates back into oil and vinegar. If you decide to refrigerate your leftovers (and you should!), just let the vinaigrette come to room temperature and shake vigorously to re-mix.