Today, we are sponsoring the food tasting tent at the annual Crystal Palace Overground Festival and at 1700 GMT we’ll be delivering our demonstration on creating flavours. We’ll be inviting people from the audience to come up and create their very own bespoke vinaigrette using a number of different flavours. There is no right combination, it’s the combination that makes your taste buds dance. Here we attempt to give a guide to Caro’s legendary vinaigrette, which is probably the best i’ve ever tasted, biased? No. We have tried it on neighbours and friends and they were running to the fridge for more !
Vinaigrette is a mixture of vinegar and oil, such as olive oil, sunflower oil or grapeseed oil and sometimes flavored with herbs, spices and other ingredients. It is used most commonly as a salad dressing but also sometimes as a cold sauce or marinade. Vinaigrette is a diminutive of the French word for vinegar, vinaigre. It is often translated as French dressing, particularly in the UK – it was certainly commonly referred to as “french dressing” in the 19th Century.
In Russia the word Vinaigrette or “Vinegret” (Винегрет) is used to describe a salad which consists of beetroot, pickled cucumber, potato, carrot, onion and sometimes also peas, beans or sauerkraut. Sunflower oil is used as a dressing and no vinegar is added to a Russian vinaigrette salad in spite of its name, because the pickled cucumbers and Sauerkraut add some vinegar. Despite the popularity of this salad in Russia, its origins may be in Germany or Scandinavia.Vinaigrette generally consists of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar whisked into an emulsion. Salt and pepper are often added along with herbs, mustard, perhaps honey and sometimes shallots, particularly if it is being used as a sauce for cooked vegetables, rice and so on. In classical French cuisine, a vinaigrette is often used to dress salad vegetables, such as artichokes, asparagus and leek.
Vinaigrette may be made with a variety of oils and vinegars. Olive oil and neutral vegetable oils tend to be the most popular, but I like to experiment with my own herb-infused oils and the odd drop of something more extravagant, like avocado oil. In northern France, particularly Normandy, it is often made with walnut oil and cider vinegar and used to dress an endive salad. The Americans tend to be somewhat more inventive, adding such things as lemons, truffles, raspberries, egg white, sugar, garlic, cherries and cheese, often blue cheese in particular. Commercially bottled versions may include emulsifiers, like lecithin. In Southeast Asia, rice bran oil and white vinegar are used as a foundation with fresh herbs, chili peppers, nuts, and lime juice. What I would urge you to do is to experiment. Use ingredients that appeal to you. You can substitute lemon juice or dry sherry for the vinegar or you might like to use a little balsamic vinegar in your mix.
I am going to attempt to write a vinaigrette recipe for you but I have to tell you that I have never done so before, I tend to just use what oils and vinegars appeal on the day and I add in herbs, honey, garlic, mustard, whatever appeals at the time, and taste, taste, taste, until I get the balance I am looking for. I urge you to do the same. Use the recipe here as a base and then experiment, it’s fun, besides it’s you who should taste and you who should decide just how much acidity you like and what your preferences are as to additional flavours! Don’t be afraid to adapt; you can use red or white wine vinegar, a different mustard or no mustard; if you like it sharper, use a higher ratio of vinegar, and if you want it less sharp use a higher ratio of oil.
- 1 rounded tsp Maldon sea salt
- 1 level tsp whole black peppercorns
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 generous tsp mustard of your choice at least (I use a gentle Dijon mustard)*
- 1 generous tsp honey of your choice at least (I use an organic one made by a friend)*
- 3 tbsp vinegar of your choice ( we use cider, sauvignon blanc)
- 6 tbsp oil of your choice (olive oil, avocado oil, garlic oil)
- Herbs of your choice to taste
Place the sea salt in a mortar with the peppercorns, and crush them quite coarsely with the pestle, the fragrance of the pepper seems to permeate the dressing more strongly when it is crushed with the salt. Add the garlic and crush it into the salt, until it becomes a purée. If you hate garlic, then just leave it out. Add the mustard of your choice, and really work it in, to get it thoroughly blended. Add the honey of your choice, and really work it in, to get it thoroughly blended.
Now add the vinegar of your choice and work these in the same way. As I said, you can use any vinegar except malt, or lemon/lime juice or sherry to suit your palate or ring the changes. Now add the oil, again of your choice but my preference is a mix of extra virgin olive oil, preferably a really good fruity one with a grapeseed oil, which is much lighter. Switch to a hand whisk, and give everything a really good, thorough whisking. Toss in finely chopped herbs of your choice, but be careful with these. Choose wisely and just add by degrees because herbs can overpower, so taste repeatedly till you hit the perfect blend.
* I always use taste as a yardstick of how much of these two ingredients I use….