100 Techniques

Technique #4: Make Great Vinaigrettes

Learn the secrets to the kitchen’s most common emulsion.

Published Oct. 28, 2023.

This is Technique #4 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master.

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Vinaigrettes are far more than just salad dressings. 

In many ways, vinaigrette is really the ultimate sauce, bringing brightness, acidity, and richness to just about any savory dish, from roasted vegetables to grains to sandwiches to cooked seafood or poultry.

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The key to a great vinaigrette is emulsification. An emulsion is simply a cohesive combination of two liquids that don’t ordinarily mix (like oil and water). In a vinaigrette, those two liquids are oil and, typically, vinegar or lemon juice. The only way to mix them properly is to combine them strenuously enough so that the oil breaks down into such tiny droplets that they remain separated and surrounded by the vinegar droplets.

Thus the two liquids become one. Such oil-in-liquid combos are the most common type of kitchen emulsion, but they’re not the only one. Butter and peanut butter are both examples of water-in-oil emulsions: Their fat content is so high that droplets of water are dispersed throughout the fat.

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An emulsified vinaigrette works best for keeping your salad greens crisp and unwilted because the vinegar surrounding the droplets of oil prevents the oil from directly contacting the greens. (Plus an emulsified vinaigrette clings more effectively, guaranteeing balanced flavor in every bite.) Whisking a vinaigrette right in the bottom of the salad bowl lets you tailor its flavors to the salad you’re serving.

But we also like to make a larger batch of vinaigrette to have on hand anytime the mood strikes. How do you make that emulsion last? It’s not about the method used for combining, be it shaking, whisking, or using a blender or food processor. Rather, it’s about the emulsifiers and stabilizers used.

4 vinaigrettes lined up side by side
Even after sitting for 15 minutes, the vinaigrettes that were properly emulsified have not separated.

Many vinaigrettes contain mustard or mayonnaise because they are effective short-term emulsifiers. We have learned that molasses is the secret weapon for longer-term stabilization. It contains compounds that increase the viscosity of the emulsion so much that it becomes difficult for the oil droplets to coalesce back into larger drops. (Genuine aged balsamic vinegar contains similar compounds.) And fortunately, the amount needed to stabilize an emulsified vinaigrette is not so much that it results in a sweet dressing.

Whip up a vinaigrette in seconds. Watch here.

Step by Step: How to Make a Great Vinaigrette

Use your knowledge of creating emulsions to make a great vinaigrette. Here are the steps.

Step 1A: To Make Vinaigrette in Jar, Combine Ingredients

Combine flavoring ingredients and stir with fork until smooth and homogenous in appearance.

Step 2A: Add Acid and Shake

Add vinegar, seal jar, and shake until smooth.

Step 3A: Add Oil and Create Emulsion

Add oil in stages, sealing jar and shaking vigorously after each addition until thoroughly combined and lightly thickened.

Step 1B: To Make Vinaigrette Directly in Salad Bowl, Combine Ingredients in Bowl

Whisk vinegar and seasonings in bottom of salad bowl. Add oil in thin stream and whisk until thoroughly combined and emulsified.

Recipes That Use This Technique

Make a great vinaigrette with any of these recipes.


Make-Ahead Vinaigrette

What if you could make a vinaigrette that would stay emulsified and taste great for a week?
Get the Recipe

Radicchio Salad with Apple, Arugula, and Parmesan

For variety in our fall salad rotation, we turned to the unique flavor and texture of radicchio.
Get the Recipe

Bibb and Frisée Salad with Grapes and Celery

It starts with skipping packaged greens and returning to the classic way of making salad—using crisp, mature head lettuces.
Get the Recipe

Cider-Caraway Vinaigrette

This unique vinaigrette will work great on many different salads.
Get the Recipe

Make-Ahead Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette

What if you could make a vinaigrette that would stay emulsified and taste great for a week?
Get the Recipe

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