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For the uninitiated, there is nothing more confounding than salad dressings. I hear pretty frequently, "How do you make vinaigrette?" "What vinegar do I use?" "What kind of things should I put in my salad?" "It's too complicated—I just buy Newman's Own." These questions come from lay people and food people alike. And my thought is always (besides the snarky "How don't you know this stuff?"), "You need a good all-purpose recipe." Which is where May's Tasting and Testing recipes come in.
The truth is, vinaigrettes are easy—impressive, yes, but really, really easy. Remember this simple mnemonic:
A: acid (vinegar, lemon juice)
A: aromatics (shallots, garlic, scallions)
B: binder (mustard, mayonnaise)
O: oil (olive, grapeseed, hazelnut, walnut)
First, the method (dead simple):
You can use a jar (just put everything in the jar, cover and shake) or a bowl (whisk the acid, aromatics and binder, then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking). Both methods will result in an emulsion—thick and silky. And the variations are practically endless—add chopped herbs, grated parmesan, crumbled Roquefort, grated lemon zest...etc.
Next, the salad:
Texture is just as important as flavor. I like soft, crunchy, creamy and juicy stuff all in one bowl. I like tender greens like Bibb, arugula and watercress; crunchy toasted walnuts; shaved parmesan or crumbled goat cheese; and some halved grapes. For 4 servings, about 12 loose cups of salad greens should get about 1/3 cup dressing. Any more than that and you've drowned your greens.
Last, the wine:
Salads can be pretty tricky to pair with wines. At Casa Mono with F&W wine guru Ray Isle recently, he ordered the most delicious Spanish white wine—Gessami Gremona 2004. Light, slightly effervescent, peachy, pear-y, citrussy and slightly sweet—I ran back to the office, ordered a case (2005) and have served it with my 1st course salads ever since.
And don't forget to season!!!