In How Do You Take Yours?, The Takeout solicits staff and outside expertise for secret tips on improving one dish. This week: we’re discussing how to improve your salad dressing game at home.
Zach Meloy, Better Half in Atlanta
There’s a basic ratio to vinaigrette: one part acid to two or three parts fat. I like that ratio because you can open the fridge and find any or all these things. Skip going to the store with the overpriced pre-made stuff with the additives. Here’s one: You take two tablespoons of good quality vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is one of my favorites. Add two tablespoons of mustard, whisk it into a paste. Then drizzle six tablespoons of warm bacon fat, add salt and pepper. This works well with a warm spinach salad, or a heartier green like charred cabbage. Say you have leftover potatoes—throw it in a pan to crisp them up, take off heat, and toss it in a bowl with this warm bacon vinaigrette. You might shave some apple or raw onions, toss in rosemary or thyme. And then you can make additions like molasses or sorghum as the sweetener. If not salad, toss this on roasted parsnip, or a piece of roasted chicken. It’s a sweet, hot, sour, salty sauce.
Mark Steuer, The Orbit Room and Funkenhausen in Chicago
Instead of vinegar, I like to use the brine from pepperoncini. It adds a bit of depth that you can’t get from just vinegar. Anything briney would work (although dill pickle juice might be too much). I always start with a bit of dijon to help emulsify. Some sort of herb—I like parsley, but thyme would work as well—puree it, and while the food processor is running, add canola and olive oil.
Jonny Hunter, Forequarter in Madison, Wisc.
Most people don’t approach salad dressing as sauce, but it’s probably the most approachable and easiest sauce to make in a home environment. My go-to salad dressing is Frank’s Red Hot, which is surprisingly great. It’s emulsified nicely, lots of vinegar and spice.
Salad dressing is just fat, acid, emulsification, and sweetness. When I’m at home, I mortar and pestle garlic (put more garlic than you think), preserved lemons (Whole Foods or a Middle Eastern grocer), olive oil, a bit of mustard, and thyme. It’s super stupid simple.
Clayton Purdom, The A.V. Club internet culture editor
At some point my mom, a skilled cook guided more by feeling than science, “figured out” salads. That’s the way we always referred to it: “Mom sure has figured out salads.” Suddenly they weren’t obligatory side dishes but this entire separate course, whipped together with a variety of implements sitting around the house. The only thing she’d ever buy fresh was lettuce; everything else was just already there. The secret was in the dressing—three tablespoons of olive oil to two tablespoon red wine vinegar, or some ratio thereof—that you pour in the bowl first. From there, just add other things you like: balsamic, salt and pepper, chopped garlic, mustard, mayonnaise, anchovy, whatever. (Bleu cheese and avocado are a particular delight.) Swirl it around, let it sit for a little, and then throw in that lettuce in. You, too, have figured out salads.
Harold Dieterle, Chopt
The key to a good salad dressing is its ability to coat the salad so that each bite tastes as good as the last. Too thin and you end up with an oily pool at the bottom of your bowl. Too thick and no one’s going to be happy. Good dressing is more than just flavor; it comes down to the right viscosity. I turn to the science of pectin. Pectin is used to make marmalades, jellies, fruit pies, things like that. It’s a thickening agent found naturally in fruits, usually requiring heat to be released. With this vinaigrette, instead of using heat, we blend whole apples, pureeing them to activate the pectin and create a thicker vinaigrette. The result is a fresh, light vinaigrette, a perfect balance of sweet and tangy, that evenly coats the salad.
Chopt Local Apple Vinaigrette (vegan)
1 1/2 cup Gala apple (about 8 oz., chopped)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Blend apple, mustard and vinegar together. While blending, stream olive oil in to emulsify. Season with salt and pepper.
Kevin Pang, The Takeout editor-in-chief
I can’t tell you how much of a Caesar salad fiend I was as a kid. It was practically the only way you could get the 10-year-old me to eat vegetables. Something about its richness, the savory linger, and that intense garlic taste that makes it, to me, the perfect dressing. My recipe for homemade Caesar dressing is from a famous cookbook—I forgot which one—but I’ve made it so many times I no longer consult the book and now rely on muscle memory.
It requires you to mince a clove of garlic and let it sit in a few tablespoons of lemon juice. Supposedly this takes the harshness out of the raw garlic bite. To that I add one egg yolk, a couple of teaspoons of anchovy paste, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, then whisk that into a gray paste. I’ll then slowly drizzle about a half cup of canola oil until it emulsifies into a dressing. Crack fresh black pepper on top, fold in grated parmesan cheese. Caesar dressing, now and forever.