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The Beginner's Guide To Homemade Salad Dressing

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Antico Frantoio Muraglia 'Intenso' Extra Virgin Olive Oil at Dean & Deluca

Consider this an intervention. Those of you still buying bottles of Paul Newman's or Annie's or God forbid, Wish Bone salad dressings at the grocery store - it's over. I'm sorry but it's over. Additives? Corn Syrup? Xanthan Gum? That's not who you are.

You are someone with exquisite taste who appreciates and understands quality. And, you're about to become someone who confidently knows how to dress their own salad. Do not underestimate how important this is. I want you to experience real pleasure and satisfaction when you sit down to eat. The days of settling for mediocrity are over. Now, let's get down to business.

Buy the best ingredients you can afford.
Every time you use quality ingredients, your food is going to taste better. Period. You can buy the inexpensive extra virgin olive oils at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's and use them to cook with, that's fine. But if you are buying the freshest, best tasting produce for your salads at your local farmers' market, I want to suggest that you spend more money for high quality oils and vinegars. Ones that you use only for drizzling over foods and making into vinaigrettes, not heating.

Ratios of oil to vinegar
The traditional ratio for vinaigrette is three parts oil to one part vinegar. This ratio doesn't really work for me. I enjoy a brighter flavor. The ratio for my palate is almost equal parts oil to vinegar. To find the right acidity level for you, simply taste the dressing as you're adding the oil and stop or add more to your liking. Know that if it's too acidic, you can simply add more oil to balance it out. You are the master of your dressing domain.

The quick drizzle method

Some days, I don't feel like making a full-on vinaigrette; I want super quick results. So here's what I do: Take the bottle of olive oil, cover the spout part ways with your finger and slowly drizzle lightly over your salad. Do the same with the vinegar, sprinkle some good sea salt, fresh ground pepper, gently toss with your hands and you're done. It's might seem like a crap shoot but it works. If you're unsure, start by adding less versus more because you can always add but you can't take away.

The authentic vinaigrette method
Grab a clean, empty jar with a lid. Add your minced garlic or shallots in the jar with your acid (i.e.vinegar, lemon juice, orange juice, verjus, yuzu, etc.) and your salt. The acid will help mellow the sharpness of the garlic and shallot, deepen the flavors and also help "melt" the salt. Salt doesn't melt well in oil. Let it sit for a few minutes - say 5 to 10. Then add your oil, screw the lid on tight and shake like mad. You can also make the dressing in a bowl and whisk the oil in slowly. You want to make sure it's emulsified. Do not make dressing in a metallic bowl unless it is stainless steel. Your acid will be altered in flavor and not in a good way.

Here are two simple recipes to try from the great new cookbook, Michael Symon's Live to Cook: Recipes and Techniques to Rock Your Kitchen

Sherry Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine the shallot, garlic, vinegar, mustard and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in a few drops of the oil and then begin adding the oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously until all the oil is incorporated.

Lemon Vinaigrette
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill (optional)

Combine the shallot, garlic, lemon juice and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in a few drops of the oil and then begin adding the oil in a thin stream, whisking continuously until all the oil is incorporated. If using dill, add right before serving.

Storing your dressing

According to Michael Symon, if your homemade dressing contains aromatics - garlic, shallots, herbs, it will only last about a day. If not, it will last up to one week in the fridge.

I asked some talented food professionals to offer up their tips on salad making as well as some of their favorite oils and vinegars.

Christine Cikowski, Chef/Founder of Sunday Dinner and Eat Green Foods

Olio Verde Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Estate bottled in Sicily, unfiltered and made from Nocellara Olives.

Villa Manodori Balsamic
Made in small quantities, matured for 10 to 20 years. Aged in barrels of juniper, chestnut and oak.

Salad making tips
Mix your salad in a large bowl with your hands for even coat of the dressing. Don't over dress your salad. Start with a little and add slowly.

Iliana Regan, Artisan and Chef of One Sister Pierogi and the underground dining sensation - Mermaid Dinners

BLiS sherry vinegar - BLiS ages extra old, fine sherry vinegar in 18 year old, maple cured, single bourbon casks. It's AMAZING.

Salad making tips

As for sourcing, I use my own garden. Most people probably don't know that you need fairly little soil - just a two inch even layer of moist soil - and you can just throw lettuce seeds on top, no rows or planting - to have an awesome patch of lettuce. And I use lots of my own sprouts and microgreens, like sunflower and radish in my salads at home. HERBS, fine herbs, tarragon, chervil, parsley and chive, make an awesome addition of flavor on top of any salad. And, I keep it simple: lettuces, sprouts, bright herbs, a touch oil, touch vin, a little lemon or citrus zest - Grapefruit is awesome if it's hot and you're outside drinking sauvignon blanc - and finally salt and pepper. I like to play with peppers. I use a five pepper blend. One of my many favorite kitchen tools is the juicer. How that works for salads? Juice the greens, season with salt, and pour the juice onto a lined sheet tray and freeze. After it's frozen, drag a fork along in rows to make granita, mist with a little sherry vinegar and serve as a palate cleanser for a summer barbeque!

Alisa Barry, Creator/Owner at Bella Cucina

Bella Cucina's Taste of Tuscany. It's an estate grown and bottled oil, made exclusively for Bella Cucina that evokes my favorite flavors of the Tuscan hill towns. In Tuscany, the olives are picked in November while they are still green. This gives the oil its rich color and fruity, peppery and green flavor. Another fave is Bariani California Olive Oil. Estate grown and bottled in northern California.

Verjus from Terra Sonoma in Northern California. This California winery lets nothing go to waste. Fine wine is left to age into a delicate and slightly sweet vinegar in the traditional French style. I love it as a seasoning for cooked bitter greens like lacinato kale and escarole.

Kim Shambrook of
Bespoke Cuisine

Some of my favorite olive oils are by Yellingbo – produced in Australia and quite tasty – herbaceous, yet not too heavy. I’m also a big fan of the Greek extra-virgin olive oils. I find them to have a great depth of flavor, the color is beautiful, and all you need is a little lemon juice and salt & pepper to make a simple vinaigrette.

Salad making tip
I use a Microplane grater to add lemon zest to my vinaigrettes.

Chef Paul Virant of

I love Spanish olive oils made from Picual or Arbequina olives. As far as vinegars, we use Champagne or Cava vinegar the most in conjunction with leftover preserving liquids that usually have infused flavor. (read idea, below) Our source for Spanish olive oils and Cava vinegar is La Tienda.com.

Salad making tip
Say you've made or bought some pickled dilly beans and the liquid is garlicky and spicy. Bring up the the acidity level by adding some fresh lemon juice and add some oil and your done. This could be a nice marinade or dressing.

Terra Brockman, Farmer, Speaker and Author of
The Seasons on Henry's Farm

Napa Valley Naturals extra virgin organic olive oil.

Salad making tips
Buy salad greens from a local farmer you know, and to ask them which variety of lettuce is best at the time you are buying, since some varieties are much better in the cool, wet spring, but get bitter in the summer. Add Herbs! To liven up your salad, add some fresh herbs -- parsley, dill, tarragon, thyme or sorrel . . . whatever strikes your fancy. Add Flowers! You can find these at some farmers markets, or grow your own: johnny jump-ups, calendula, chive flowers, sage flowers, nasturtiums.

Tracy Kellner, Wine Babe & Owner of Provenance Food & Wine

Right now anything by A l'Olivier - I've tried their passion fruit, tomato, espelette, chili & fig...mild acidity and lots of the fruit's pulp is left in for a thicker, more flavorful texture. I've used them with any oil because the flavor is so good.

Salad making tips
I save small jars with lids and use them to make/shake/store my homemade dressings in smaller amounts so there is less waste. However, in summertime when there are so many great tasting veggies at their peak, I tend to use either one really high-quality oil OR vinegar, depending what flavor I want to complement or enhance in the dish or salad. That with a sprinkling of good salt and freshly-ground pepper, is all I need!

Flora Lazar, Artisan at Flora Confections

I love the Cassis Balsamic vinegar from Old Town Oil.

Salad making tip
I love, like Balthazar in NYC, to put a tiny bit of truffle oil in my salad dressing. I also love cut up pate de fruit in my salad, especially the raspberry and blueberry varieties. (Flora makes these beauties by hand using local, seasonal fruit. They're available online and Saturdays at Green City Market.)

The Quick Fix: Butter, Radish and Sea Salt Sandwiches

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

This was my dinner last night. This was also an appetizer I served to friends last week before a big, fried chicken dinner. It's incredibly delish, simple, fast and you will surprise and delight your friends and loved ones when you serve it.

You will find radishes on the scene at your local farmers' market right now. There are different varieties out there; you might want to try one you haven't tried before. They will vary in color, shape, size and flavor. Try French breakfast radishes if you can find them. They're oblong and red with a white tip. They have a crisp texture and more delicate flavor than some other varieties.

You can go about this a few ways: You can slice up a great loaf of bread, slather it with room temperature butter, throw some thinly sliced radishes on top, sprinkle it with sea salt (try Maldon or maybe a chunky, high quality grey salt) and call it a day. For the bread averse (I know you're out there), you can simply dip your trimmed radishes in the butter, sprinkle some sea salt and enjoy it that way. Your call. On a hot summer day, these babies go great with a glass of Rosé.

It goes without saying you'll want to use the best ingredients you can find. Find an artisan loaf of bread. Nope, sorry, Panera, doesn't cut it. Check your farmers' market. Check your food coop. Check smaller gourmet shops and bakeries. Is there someone in your area making gorgeous hearth loaves of bread from scratch? That's the bread you want to buy. In Chicago, we have some great options which include Anne at Crumb, Cook au Vin, and the prolific Pamela Fitzpatrick at Fox & Obel.

There are also local creameries making small-batch butter with sweet cream from cows grazing on pasture! Once you taste pasture butter you will never go back. And ahem, this butter is loaded with good fat! Did you know that milk from pastured cows also contains an ideal ratio of essential fatty acids or EFAs including Omega 3s and 6s? Read it and weep, people! It's healthy for you! Consider yourself unshackled.

The award-winning Nordic Creamery in Wisconsin is selling their Summer Butter right now at Green City Market and at Provenance Food & Wine. You can also buy it online. And it is not simply hyperbole when I say this butter is life changing.

This is butter that killer hostess gifts are made of. Enjoy!

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