How to Make a Simple Mustard Vinaigrette
One of the first things I learned to make when I was learning how to cook, or should I say being taught how to cook, was a simple vinaigrette. I was in my 20s and didn't even know how much I would enjoy spending time in the kitchen.
I was dating this wonderful woman who lived in a studio on the Upper East Side of New York City whose kitchen was barely big enough for one, let alone two adults. Yet, it was so tight that just preparing dinner together was enough to create a romantic setting.
Now in my current kitchen, my wife and I can be cooking a 5-course meal and not once bump into each other, although I try every chance I get. There's something to be said for small kitchens. But I digress.
Thinking back, this friend was probably my first cooking teacher and taught me how to enjoy good food and how much fun it can be in the kitchen. In addition, she taught me two simple lessons I still preach about on my website. One, use the freshest, best ingredients available, and two, keep it simple.
And although she was an excellent cook, she had a few simple recipes up her sleeve that she could pull off at a moment's notice. One of them was a mustard vinaigrette.
This vinaigrette is so simple yet delicious; I've been serving it to friends and family for the last 20 years and still get rave reviews. Maybe all my friends grew up as I did on those commercial brands of French and Thousand Island dressings.
You know, the ones that won't come out of the jar until you smack them a few times on the bottom, and the next thing you know, you have a big funky glob of dressing on your plate.
Mustard Vinaigrette Basic Ratios
I did a little research on preparing a simple vinaigrette to see how my tried and true recipe stood up to the pros. What follows are some tips on making a basic vinaigrette that can be your starting point for a plethora of vinaigrettes that can be prepared by altering the ingredients.
Almost all the recipes I found called for a 3-to-1 ratio of oil to vinegar. This is a safe ratio to memorize for general knowledge but shouldn't keep you from coming up with your own. When making this basic vinaigrette for myself, I rarely measure it out. Instead, I add the ingredients, taste, and adjust.
Now, this isn't the best way for beginners to learn, but once you get the basic idea of what it should taste like, go for it. If I did measure it out, I bet I would come up with slightly less oil-to-vinegar ratio than 3 to 1.
The Simplest Vinaigrette
The purest form of vinaigrette would be oil, vinegar, and a little salt & pepper mixed right in a bowl of greens. When I was a kid, we used to go to this Italian restaurant; it was more like a pizza joint with tables in the back. They would serve a salad of iceberg lettuce, two slices of cucumber, and a rock-hard wedge of tomato with nothing on it.
On the table would be a cruet of olive oil and a cruet of red wine vinegar. The waiter would come around and ask if I would like him to dress it. But, of course, I wanted him to dress it and toss it too. He was an expert.
I figured he must have dressed thousands of these salads, so he must know what he was doing. Besides, at that age, I had no idea the proper ratio was 3 to 1.
A slightly more complicated would be to introduce an emulsifier to our vinaigrette. What a horrible-sounding word for something that tastes so good. Why would you add an emulsifier like mustard to your vinaigrette? One reason might be to add an additional layer of flavor.
Another would be to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. That's what an emulsifier does. First, combine the vinegar and mustard, season with salt and pepper, and then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking the ingredients together.
What Type of Oil To Use?
There is no reason to use good olive oil when making a mustard vinaigrette. Why? The mustard overpowers the taste of the olive oil.
So you might as well use vegetable oil or canola oil. However, you want to use decent French mustard with many flavors.
I typically use Dijon mustard. If you insist on using olive oil, be careful not to overbeat the olive oil when combined with the other ingredients so as not to lose its delicate flavor and make it bitter.
You may want to try making a blend of olive oil and some other type of oil. I like to mix my vinaigrette in a used jar with a cover for easy storage. Usually, I save an old mayonnaise or baby food jar.
If the dressing gets low, add more ingredients, taste, and adjust the amounts. Some recipes insist on using a whisk to combine ingredients, although a fork works just fine.
What vinegar you use is your choice and depends on what you are putting the vinaigrette on. I prefer Balsamic vinegar, but you can use red or white, cider, flavored, infused, or even try no vinegar and substitute a citrus juice. (but then it wouldn't be called a vinaigrette, would it?)
The Other Ingredients I Use
The other ingredients I typically add are garlic, dried parsley, and dried thyme. Some recipes call for chopping the garlic, some mincing it, and some pulverizing it with a mortar and pestle. Then, I either smash it with the side of my chef's knife or use my handy, dandy garlic press, which is fun to use, but a pain to clean.
I use these essential ingredients, but you should not limit yourself from experimenting with various herbs, spices, and other ingredients. Look in any cookbook or cooking magazine, and you'll find dozens of variations.
Here's my basic vinaigrette with measured amounts, but as I said earlier, I usually eyeball it, taste it, and adjust it. If you do this enough times, you'll be doing the same in no time at all.
Basic Mustard Vinaigrette Recipe
- In a clean jar or small bowl, add the vinegar, garlic, and mustard and mix well.
- Slowly add the olive oil while either whisking or stirring rapidly with your fork.
- Add the parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper, taste, and adjust the seasonings.