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Challenging the oil-to-vinegar ratio


Fat Guy
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Every recipe I've ever seen for vinaigrette calls for a very high ratio of oil to vinegar, most commonly 4 to 1 and sometimes 3 to 1. But I've got to say, a vinaigrette made with 4 or 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar tastes flat to me, and salads dressed with such a vinaigrette seem overly oily with too little acidity.

In my kitchen, the ratio is 1 to 1. This produces a vinaigrette that's much more in line with my palate. (I also add a little mustard, a little dried oregano and a little salt and pepper, but that's not what this topic is about.) It's quite acidic if you drink it out of the jar (I use a recycled peanut jar for making vinaigrette), but when you add an appropriate amount of it to a salad and toss, it coats each leaf and distributes itself such that it provides balanced flavors.

I'm actually wondering whether vinegar was more strongly flavored back in the day when Escoffier or whomever codified these recipes walked the Earth. Because today, even with high-end imported vinegars from Europe, I can't imagine 4 to 1 being a good ratio. The only time I adjust even as far as 2 to 1 is when using very powerful Sherry vinegar. I could see someone wanting to go to 3 to 1 or 4 to 1 on that, I guess. But for basic wine vinegar, forget it. No way.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I tend to go closer to 2:1 - I've tried 1:1 and it's just too raw and sharp for me, but the classic 3:1 or 4:1 starts to taste greasy and masks the vinegar flavor.

Mostly I tend to go by taste and adjust depending on what vinegar I'm using and what other adjuncts are in there. I'm looking for a certain smoothness that retains a certain punch, and I can't do that with objective measurements.

Marcia.

Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted...he lived happily ever after. -- Willy Wonka

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Marcia, when you say it's too raw and sharp, are you talking about tasting it alone, or on a salad? One of the things I've found is that what tastes good on its own isn't necessarily what's best on a salad, because when you put a thin coating of dressing on a salad you get it in a diffuse form. Or are you already factoring in the salad?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think your ratio is bang on. I've always used approximately 1:1 (to taste) and prefer a tart dressing. Even 2:1 is generally too oily for me. If I'm ever in doubt, I dip and try using whatever salad contents the dressing is for.

I can see increasing the oil in order to get a thicker emulsion for coating certain salads, but my usual solution is to use something other than oil for a thicker emulsion: mustard or pastes like miso/gochujang for Asian-style dressings.

Baker of "impaired" cakes...
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The vinaigrette I make for my vegetable pasta salad is so tart and raw tasting that it actually makes me wince a bit. I shake together dijon mustard, red wine and basalmic vinegar, salt and pepper, herbs and a pinch of sugar in a wide-mouthed canning jar, then add my oil. I bring it right to the point where anymore vinegar (or other acids) would create a watery dressing (to be avoided). We really like really tart things in this house. Really. :biggrin:

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1:1 is a lot closer to the ration i use. for lower cal dressings on my perpetual series of diets, i have even gone 1:2 in favor of vinegar, but i find when i do that i have to add a pinch of sugar or a few drops of honey to temper the acidity and make the dressing palatable. 1:1 is just about right. i have in fact so gotten used to lowering the amount of ol and fats in cooking that i find a traditional vinigrette to be really heavy and greasy and i cant handle it very well at all

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I think I have heard or read somewhere that at least in the states vinegar at one time was sold with a higher acidity. It was probably in one of my canning books, because I think it was used to justify not using some older recipes, or adjusting older recipes, because the ph would not be at a safe level for home canning purposes. Will have to do some research.

I agree that 1 to 1 works better for my tastes. The higher ratio of oil makes for a greasy salad.

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I agree with more acid in the dressing. We go closer to1:1in this household as well. Personally like more bite to the dressing . Some friends say it is too strong.

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I'm with the traditional 3:1 or even 4:1 oil to vinegar, I'm afraid. Sharp salad dressing just doesn't work for us at all, not least because the lingering taste of vinegar kills any wine we might be drinking stone dead. I import olive oil, so we always use a top single-estate extra-virgin (Tuscan or from Le Marche); vinegar is my own homemade wine vinegar (which is relatively strong). We make our dressing in a wide-mouthed cruet that we've had literally for decades, and we always make it the same way, topping up whenever necessary so that there is always dressing on hand (could never understand why people buy dressing when it's so simple to make well). Here's how we do it: add the vinegar first, then a crumble of Maldon sea salt, swirl to help dissolve, then add a furious twisting of freshly ground black pepper (maybe 40-50 turns of the giant mill), then the extra-virgin olive oil, not measured, just added by eye 'cos we know the proportions in this venerable cruet. Nothing else, no mustard, no garlic, no herbs, no sugar, nada mas. To use, just shake like crazy to make a nice, thick emulsion, add to the salad bowl (not too much), then lightly toss with the hands. The perfect salad. We have this just about every night and I never ever get tired of it.

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My ratio is probably more in the 3:1 area, I just do it by eye and tasting. I always start by gently crushing a clove of garlic into Maldon salt. I add the vinegar first so that it disolves the salt (it won't disolve in oil), if I'm using mustard, I add it in at this point, followed by the oil, a grind of black pepper and shake to make an emulsion. I take the clove of garlic out of it before I use it. Maybe the garlic adds an extra kick and that's why the balance seems fine.

I make an exception to the oil:acid ratio when I make fattoush a Lebanerse parsley salad. My ratio of oil to lemon juice would be about 1.5:1. But with a lower content of oil, I find a dressed salad wilts more quickly.

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Marcia, when you say it's too raw and sharp, are you talking about tasting it alone, or on a salad? One of the things I've found is that what tastes good on its own isn't necessarily what's best on a salad, because when you put a thin coating of dressing on a salad you get it in a diffuse form. Or are you already factoring in the salad?

One of the first things our chef instructor taught us, was to taste, using the green you want to put the vinaigrette on. It makes a huge difference. I tend to use a 2:1 ratio for the most part.

Marlene

cookskorner

Practice. Do it over. Get it right.

Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.

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Every recipe I've ever seen for vinaigrette calls for a very high ratio of oil to vinegar, most commonly 4 to 1 and sometimes 3 to 1. But I've got to say, a vinaigrette made with 4 or 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar tastes flat to me, and salads dressed with such a vinaigrette seem overly oily with too little acidity.

In my kitchen, the ratio is 1 to 1. But for basic wine vinegar, forget it. No way.

How gratifying to see this post. I make vinagrette all the time, right in the bowl. 2 TBSP EVOO, 2 TBSP aged Balsamic (or 1/2 & 1/2 Balsamic and Red Wine vinegar), heaping TBSP dijon (sometimes German coarse ground mustard for a change), sometimes chopped shallots, heaping TBSP brown sugar, pinch of salt, lots of freshly ground black pepper. If I have it, sometimes I'll chop some fresh basil, but not too much.

In goes the romaine, toss and toss, and then sometimes I add parmesan grated over the top. Every once in a great while, I will cube some fresh mozz instead of the parmesan or sometimes combine both.

We haven't grown tired of it yet, and it does coat the leaves really well, leaving a tasty aftertaste in the mouth!

doc

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I can go 1:1, 2:1 or 3:1...to me, it depends on the acid I'm using (sherry-wine, white-wine, red-wine, lemon juice, etc.), as well as the oil - certainly a bland oil like canola wil not affect the taste of my vinaigrette like an extra-virgin new oil will.

Another reason for my different ratios is what I will be using the vinaigrette for - (I tend to make vinaigrette fresh every time I need one rather than make a batch and keeping it in the fridge). So for a potato salad I'll use 1:1 - for a salad nicoise I might go 2 or 3:1 and lots of mustard, etc. etc.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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There was an article in our local paper today on making a vinaigrette. It gave the standard ratio of 3-4:1 based on the different level of acidity. I use 1-2:1 on average. I agree that more oil makes the dressing too oily for my taste and I try to dress the salad lightly.

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Ooooh I get to say "outlier."

I'm more like 5:1 or 6:1. Just enough vinegar to set up a contrast. I love the flavor of olive oil.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Yea, I think it depends on what you're going for. In Italy, for example, the dressing most often seems to be the oil -- that's what people want to taste. The vinegar or lemon juice is just there to provide a bit of contrast. But, of course, this works best with very good extra virgin olive oil and nice bright vegetables. The whole salad might be given a thin coating of oil and only a little squeeze of lemon juice. I do this sometimes, when I have excellent quality extra virgin olive oil. But more often than not I go for a higher amount of acid like Fat Guy does.

I can't stand the too-sweet-for-me dressings that have been taking over America with the popularity of sweet balsamic vinegar, but that's another story.

--

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One issue I have not seen taken into consideration here is which phase of the oil/vinegar dressing should be continuous, and which phase in droplet form. If you start with all the oil in the mixing vessel and whisk while adding vinegar with, say, mustard or egg yolk in it, you have a continuous oil phase with suspended vinegar droplets. You can add more oil with just a stir, but have to whisk in more vinegar to suspend it. And vice versa with a continuous vinegar phase. Dressings with a continuous oil phase seem to coat more evenly on the greens to me, but that may be just my preconceived idea that a continuous aqueous phase like vinegar would bead up due to surface tension. Does anyone think a 1/1 dressing ratio would taste differently, depending on which component was suspended? I have never experimented to see.

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i'm with fatty on this one ... usually. but it depends on the kind of salad. at my local coffee shop, they all think i'm weird because i order their chopped romaine with just lemon wedges--no oil. works great. with cooked vegetable salads, i do think the 3-1 works better.

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as far as getting it to emulsify and coat well, as long as I have a little good mustard in there it seems to do well. As opposed to what I see most people do (a little salad with your dressing?) I like my salads with only a breath of dressing, so I tend to make my mine on the stronger 1:1 side of things.

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I also use 1:1, though more often than not tend towards 2:3 to cut the quantity of oil (I enjoy vinaigrettes - and plenty of them). If I'm using non-Balsamic vinegar (or a reduced quantity in a blend, depending on other additions), this can go as high as 1:2, although 1:3 is just too tart for me - except with the rare light champagne vinegar-focused dressing.

Also, mustard works well for emulsifying, but I nearly always add a drop of liquid lecithin before mixing. It has plenty of emulsifying power.

Edited to add: lecithin

Edited by DCP (log)

David aka "DCP"

Amateur protein denaturer, Maillard reaction experimenter, & gourmand-at-large

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One of the things I've found is that what tastes good on its own isn't necessarily what's best on a salad, because when you put a thin coating of dressing on a salad you get it in a diffuse form.

This is the only way I can judge a dressing. Tasting it off a spoon is meaningless for me.

I generally do 2:1, but balsamic is more like 1.5:1. That 4:1 thing is too oily for me.

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Naw, for me, 3:1, by volume, measured, always, and I don't mess with it. So, 1 C virgin olive oil and 1/3 C red wine vinegar, e.g., Progresso.

Then the good stuff starts! So, it's Dijon mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, at least. It may also be raw eggs, anchovies, packed in oil, with the oil, Worcestershire sauce, etc. Maybe it's some blue cheese.

Lemon juice instead of vinegar? Too much trouble: Vinegar pours out easily and keeps forever in a bottle while lemons have to be rolled, cut, squeezed, strained, and discarded and go bad in a hurry.

Extra virgin and Balsamic? Don't need these since what I have is good enough as it is.

That 3:1 is a solution to a standard, old, long-lasting problem. Now that I've got that problem solved, I don't want to re-visit it, re-solve it, re-invent that wheel, etc.

Instead, I want to make progress on things I very much want to know but do not:

I WOULD like to know how to make stir-fry like my local inexpensive Chinese restaurants!

I did 11 quarts of chicken soup, with a LOT of chicken, good chicken stock (DID learn how to make that), onions, carrots, celery, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper; I finally ate it all, but it wasn't very good. I'd like to know how to make it better.

What would be the right food and wine to go with

R. Strauss's 'Ein Heldenleben'?

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