Salad Dressings 101

Why you should never buy store bought salad dressing again.

Finished vinaigrette in a glass jar.

I don’t eat salad very often. I know I should, and I do much more than I used too, but still not nearly enough. You maybe be wondering why I would write a post about salad dressing when I don’t really eat salad. Well, there is a simple answer. My fiancée made me do it. Well, she suggested it. Maybe it was a hint from her that I should eat more salad, I don’t know. What I do know is how to make a killer salad dressing. How do I know how to do that when I don’t really eat salad? I know how because that is my job. So join me in my…

Salad dressings 101

A good salad dressing should coat your salad but not make it soggy or heavy. The dressing should be vibrant and compliment your salad, yet not over power it. Choosing the right dressing for your salad is just as important as all the other ingredients. You need to find a balance of flavour. The best way to balance the flavour of a salad is to make your own dressing. It is easy, quick, cheap, and delicious. There is no reason why you should be buying salad dressing, none at all. I would venture to guess that you already have all the ingredients you need to make a great salad dressing on hand. You don’t need to buy expensive ingredients, just use what you have.

There are two main types of salad dressings. The first type is a vinaigrette which is based on vinegar and oil. The second type is egg and oil based like mayonnaise. The two types of dressings have a lot in common.  For starters they are both an emulsification of oil and another liquid. Secondly, they are both made in almost the exact same way. Finally, the principles behind both types of dressings are the same. There is one main difference between the two types of dressings. An egg based dressing is a permanent emulsification, a vinaigrette dressing is a temporary emulsification. This means that unless you use commercial binders like they do in store bought dressings, your vinaigrette will eventually separate. This is fine. When it does and you want to use it, just give it a big shake and it will come back together.

What is an emulsification? An emulsification is a mixture of two or more liquids that usually don’t mix such as oil and water. An emulsification is facilitated through the use of stabilizers. In the case of an egg based dressing the stabilizer or binder is actually the egg itself. More specifically, it is a phospholipid in egg yolks called lecithin which acts as the binder.  In a vinaigrette, ground mustard seeds, or garlic can do the same thing as the egg yolk in an egg based dressing.

As I said, the process for both types of dressing is pretty much the same. You start with your base. If you are making an egg based dressing, this would be your eggs. For a vinaigrette, you would begin with your vinegar and a stabilizer such as ground mustard or garlic. Now, you add your oil be it olive oil, nut oil, or a neutrally flavoured oil such as canola. The key here is that you it add slowly. If you add your oil too quickly you will over saturate your binder and your emulsification will break. After all your oil has been absorbed you add the rest of your ingredients such as flavourings and seasonings. Alternatively, you can add your flavourings before your oil, but I find it better to do it after.

Vinaigrette –

When making a vinaigrette you have a lot of options of how to flavour it. This flavouring begins with the first few ingredients. You can use different flavoured oils such garlic oil which is a byproduct of roasting garlic. You can use nut oils, or literally any other oil you choose.  The same goes for vinegar. Don’t limit yourself to just white vinegar. You can use sherry vinegar, blueberry vinegar, balsamic, cider, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, all of these will drastically change the flavour of the vinaigrette. If you are going to use flavoured oils and vinegars just think about how that flavour is going to affect the rest of your salad and the rest of the ingredients in your vinaigrette.


Basic Vinaigrette Recipe

Yield: about 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 3/4 c canola oil
  • 4 drops Tabasco Sauce
  • 1 drop Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Place the mustard powder in a medium mixing bowl and whisk in just enough vinegar to make a paste. Once you have made a paste add the rest of the vinegar. Now, slowly being to add the oil, a few drops at a time to start with. Once the first few drops have been absorbed you can begin to add the rest of the oil in a slow stead stream whisking constantly. Once all the oil has been absorbed add the rest of your ingredients, plus any flavourings you choose. Season with salt and pepper to tastes and drizzle over your salad.

1 tsp of mustard powder on a measuring spoon. 3/4 of a cup of oil in a measuring cup. A bottle of red wine vinegar.

Vinegar mixed with mustard powder.Finished vinaigrette still in the mixing bowl.Finished vinaigrette in a glass jar.


Egg Based Dressings –

As with a vinaigrette, egg based dressings benefit from the use of flavoured oils and vinegars. Again, it just comes down to what other ingredients are present in your dressing and in your salad.

For egg based dressings, some people will use the whole egg, and some will just use the yolk. I prefer to use just the yolk. If you are not going to use the egg white, don’t waste it. It can be frozen in a small container and thawed when you want to make a meringue or something like that. I find that using just the yolk will give me a thicker, creamier dressing than when using the whole egg. You can try both ways and see which one you prefer. The process is exactly the same either way.

One egg yolk can emulsify about one cup of oil. Now, to be fair an egg yolk can emulsify more oil than that, but I find that one cup is kind of the optimal amount. Anything after one cup and you are risking the structure of your emulsification.

Other than flavoured oils and vinegars, there are lots of things you can add to your dressing to flavour it. Really, just about anything you want. This is where you can get creative. Honestly, add anything you want form pieces of apple, to anchovy, to caramelized onions, to bacon. It really is up too you.


Basic Egg Based Dressing Recipe

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 c canola oil
  • 3 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 4 drops of Tabasco sauce
  • 1 drop of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp honey
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions:

Place your egg yolk in a medium mixing bowl. Using a whisk, beat the egg yolk for a minute. Add the vinegar and mix thoroughly. While whisking slowly begin to add the oil, just a few drops at a time to being with. Once these initial few drops have been absorbed by the egg yolk you can begin to add the oil in a slow steady stream whisking constantly. If you notice that some of the oil is not being absorbed stop pouring the oil and mix the mixture until the oil is absorbed then being to add the oil again. Once all the oil has been added and absorbed add the rest of your ingredients and mix them into the dressing. Add whatever flavourings you would like. Transfer the dressing to a container, cover, and place in the fridge for twenty minutes to allow the dressing to absorb all the flavours. Serve over your favorite salad.

An egg yolk sitting in a mixing bowl.Beating an egg yolk to help it absorb oil.Egg yolk mixed with vinegar.Oil slowly being added to a mixture of egg yolk and vinegar.Egg yolk, oil, and vinegar after all is mixed together.Egg based salad dressing in a glass jar.


You may have noticed the towel under the mixing bowl in the pictures. This is done to stabilize the bowl while mixing, leaving both hands free to whisk and add oil.

A dish towel folded to keep a mixing bowl from moving while mixing.metal bowl on a towel

I hope that this post has opened your eyes to how easy it is to make a simple salad dressing. The recipes above are simply the bases of the two main types of dressings. Use these bases to create your own dressings. Get creative, and always taste as you go.


A quick note about egg based dressings.

If you are making an egg based dressing and it splits don’t despair. Your dressing can be saved. Starting with a clean bowl and whisk, take one egg yolk and start the process over. Instead of adding more vinegar and oil, simply add your broken dressing as you would the oil in the initial recipe. Doing this will create a new emulsification and will bring your dressing back from the dead.


I have some sad news. Next week there will be no post as I am going on vacation. Rest assured, I will be back in two weeks with another kick ass post. Have a good week, I know I will.

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About Chef Benjamin Kelly

I have spent the last fifteen years cooking professionally and gaining an education in kitchens all across the country culminating in achieving my "Red Seal Cook" status. I have cooked for the governor general, a lieutenant governor, heads of major political parties, actors, musicians, professional athletes, and countless satisfied customers. Through all this the most important lessons I have learned are to be prepared and to keep it simple. My love of food comes from my mother. Some of the first and fondest memories I have are of cooking at my mothers side. She and I, would spend snowy winter days making tea biscuits and corn chowder, shepherd's pie, goulash, baked beans and oatmeal bread, or any number of other things. In the fall we would make pickles and preserves and forage for wild berries and mushrooms in the woods around our house. Our little farm supplied us with vegetables, herbs and meat in the form of chicken and turkey as well as their eggs. Most of the food we ate that we didn't grow came from other farms in our area, farmers who we knew by name. Growing up so close to where my food was coming from I gained a deep respect for the things we eat. That respect is something that I still carry with me. The lessons I learned at my mothers side, and on our little farm have stayed with me. I hold on to the memories, beliefs, and values. It is those things that have made me who I am today.
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