Thursday, April 26, 2007

Bottled Dressing Rant

Some would say that I have a particularly strong hatred of all bottled salad dressings. It is true that very few get a passing grade from me. Most bottled dressings taste of the thickeners, preservatives and flavorings they use as ingredients. Once in a while I'll find one with a tolerable balance of acid and flavor but I'd still be afraid to read the ingredient list!

I loathe spending money on ranch dressing for my children. I have tried various brands looking for one with no MSG or high fructose corn syrup, but when I'd find a healthy version, my children would stick their noses up at it. I believe Marie's refrigerated jars are the best compromise I have found so far. But I digress...

The real reason I HATE bottled salad dressing is that there is no excuse why you shouldn't make your own. A vinaigrette is simple to make and can be made with as few as 2 ingredients (not counting salt and pepper!). Any decent cook should have a handful of salad dressing recipes in their repertoire.

The basics of a salad dressing is a balance of oil and acid with seasonings added to create more flavor. All dressings are made by combining the acid and seasonings and blending well then slowly adding the oil while whisking the mixture to combine. Oil should be added to a ratio of 1 part acid to 3-5 parts oil. Notice there is a wide range for the amount of oil. This will be determined by taste and takes into account the seasonings which will change the flavor and the oil needed to create a balanced dressing.

So, where is a recipe you ask? I give you, Vixen's Sherry Vinaigrette. It's a recipe adapted from my professional cooking part IV class. Sherry Vinegar is a wonderful dark amber color with a rich winey flavor. It's magical in this dressing and is the perfect for The Salad. I'll save that recipe for another day.

Vixen's Sherry Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 quart (can be halved)

1 each clove of garlic, peeled
1 each shallot, peeled, roughly chopped
2 Tblsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp dried herb of your choice
(mixed Italian or thyme or oregano or Herbes de Provence or basil or tarragon)
¼ Cup Sherry wine vinegar
¼ tsp salt
5 grinds black pepper
1-1 1/2 Cups Olive oil

Put the garlic, shallot, mustard, herbs, vinegar, salt and pepper into a blender. Process for 30 seconds until the garlic and shallot are finely minced and the mustard has dissolved into the vinegar.
Put the olive oil into a cup with a lip, so it pours easily (like a glass measuring cup). While the blender is running on it’s lowest setting, very slowly pour in the olive oil. It should blend into the mixture quite easily. If it starts to pool on top of the mixture, slow down your pouring and wait until the existing oil is emulsified before continuing.
Once you’ve poured in 1 Cup of the oil, taste the dressing. Add additional oil to make the dressing thicker and less tart, to your taste.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste as well.
Note: This dressing is best on the day it is made but will last up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature and shake or whisk well before using.

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