I dress leafy greens, vegetables, and a variety of beans, meats and fishes every single day. There is no greater delight for me than a trip to the farm stand and the resulting beauty of a composed (or totally messy) salad with its accompanying acidic/oily/salty/spicy counterpart. I possess and arsinal of incredible oils, vinegars, spices...even a cutting garden with fresh herbs. All of these elements are essential for making a great dressing or sauce and so make sure you have at least one good bottle of olive oil and two or three great vinegars in your pantry. Kosher salt and a pepper mill with fresh peppercorns are also critical for success. If you have the space to keep garlic, onions, and a lemon or two on the counter, please do this too. The secret weapon that I find most cooks leave out of their homemade dressings is a sweet element, which serves to balance the acid. My go-to is raw unfiltered honey, but I’ve been known to use white/brown/coconut/date sugar, agave...You know, whatever is handy. You may also be like me in that you tend to collect fancy mustards (you know who you are!). If you don’t, buy one small jar of good Dijon and keep it just for this purpose.
I think everyone should have a few great salad dressings in their repertoire, ones that you don’t need to measure or look at a recipe to make. I am going to give you a gift and tell you the one my grandmother taught me. But first I will digress about kitchen tools (one of my favorite topics) and the state of my right hand (not good).
As a seasonal private chef, my days are spent reading, planning, shopping, running around, prepping, cooking, and cleaning up. Much of each day is spent on my feet, using my hand in repetitive motion. This year I was diagnosed with Dupuytren’s Disease, a progressive condition affecting the hand (read all about it here). In response (after freaking the f$#k out), I have been trying some dietary and “alternative” treatments (acupuncture and massage have been very effective), and have also adapted some of my kitchen practices to lessen the load on my hand. Instead of using my beloved knife for every single task, I now pick the jobs where beautiful knifework is imperative and use a machine for the rest.
Working in the kitchen of a beautiful home often requires form over function, one of the challenges of my job. This might require keeping unsightly appliances off of the counters. Because I make so many dressings and sauces, I invested in a small, lightweight food processor (this one, from Amazon). It is stored under my counter, and I have trained myself to use it on a daily basis. It gives my hand a break and emulsifies beautifully. While I love a bowl and a whisk, I have grown very fond of this little powerhouse and encourage those who are infirm or short on time (or who just love cute little appliances), to give one a whirl (sorry, couldn’t resist). Okay, onward to the recipe!
Best Simple Salad Dressing to Memorize Forever
Makes around a cup or so, and will keep for days in your fridge in a covered jar
1 tablespoon of shallot, finely minced
1 very small clove of garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup of vinegar (red wine, white wine, or champagne)
2 teaspoon of mustard
1 teaspoon of honey (or sugar, or agave...)
1/2 cup of good EVOO (or more to taste)
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
A few good grindings of pepper
A handful of fresh herbs (I typically go for chives, parsley, tarragon, and/or basil)
In a small-medium sized bowl, soak the shallot and garlic in vinegar for about 10-15 minutes (prep your greens while this happens). Whisk in the rest of the ingredients until the mixture is a little thick and emulsified. Or toss the shallot and garlic into your machine to mince, add the vinegar and wait. Then add the rest of the ingredients and blitz till emulsified. Or use a jar and shake, shake, shake.
When you dress a salad, start out conservatively. Overdressing is a sad state of affairs and easily prevented. Also, don’t forget to dress the protein, if you’ve included one. Whenever there are greens and veggies to toss, I recommend you use your freshly washed hands for the job. Do this out of the eyesight of your family, guests, or clients. It is the absolute best method, but for some reason also tends to alarm people. Anyhow, HANDS. So important, so take good care of yours!