Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Salad Dressing

          After taking my daily journey through the local "über-mart", I was daunted by the sheer amount of different salad dressings available. It then ocurred to me that I’ve never been able to figure out why people actually purchase commercially made salad dressings in the first place. If you take the time to actually read the list of ingredients in a commercial salad dressing, at least the ones that you can pronounce, chances are, you have just about everything in the cupboard that you need to make your own, Xanthan Gum and Sodium Benzoate aside.

Here is a basic dressing that can be used eight ways from Sunday and easily keeps for a week, if you happen to make too much of it.

The technique is so frighteningly simple, the variations limitless, and it takes all of a minute to do, that I really don’t know why everyone doesn't be creative and make their own versions of this.

So, here goes and let's put Kraft in the poor-house.

Basic Dijon Coffee Cup Salad Dressing

One (1) Coffee Cup or Mug

One (1) Salad Fork

EQUIPMENT OPTION - One (1) Jelly Jar with a tight fitting lid
This is what you need if you are making a large amount of dressing, like for a dinner party or a picnic. But, if it’s just you and your honey, use the mug.

Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl
Hey, don’t be cheap here. There are few enough ingredients in this recipe as it is. Use the highest quality Olive Oyl that you can find. It really does make a difference, just ask Popeye.

Red Wine Vinegar
Now, most supermarket brands are labeled “Aged Red Wine Vinegar”, these are to be avoided. The main problem with the “Aged Red Wine Vinegar” is the lack of flavour and raw acidity. Many people don’t care for the strong tangy flavour of the non-aged vinegar, but this can be regulated by the amount that you add to your dressing; most people over do it because the recipe Czars want to sell more vinegar. The strength and the amount are completely up to your individual tastes. Now, Cider vinegar and Balsamic vinegar are different animals entirely, and, make a great Coffee Cup Dressing as well. See the Variations section below for some basic ideas. Look for the regular NOT-Aged varieties of Red Wine Vinegar and you will be rewarded.

Strong Dijon Mustard
Yes, you can use plain “Ole Yello Ballpark Mustard”, but the whole thing will be strange due to the chemistry therein, odd preservatives and other whatnots. “Ole Yello Ballpark Mustard” has its perfect place in the food pantheon, no argument there, but, for this application, Dijon Mustard rules, and the fiercer the better. There are many different brands of Dijon Mustard available in the supermarket aisle; go and get yourself a jar and play with it. Find out which one you like.

Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Kosher Salt (optional)

Ready. Set. Go!

Using the Salad Fork, place a good-sized dollop of the Dijon Mustard into the Coffee Cup. How much is a dollop you ask. Just scoop out a forkful from the mustard jar, that’s a dollop. In reality, it’s about a tablespoon, but who measures.

Add a few grinds of Black Pepper to the Coffee Cup.

Add a splash of Red Wine Vinegar to the Coffee Cup, and, using the Salad Fork, stir vigorously to make a slurry. How much is a splash? Just enough to thin out the mustard. What is a slurry? It’s not water and it’s not paste, it’s somewhere in between, around a tablespoon of the vinegar, and don’t worry so much about the measurements.

Now, add the Xtra Virgin Olive Oyl, in a stream, not in one big glug, and stir happily to the beat of the insidious pop song that has invaded your head all day long while making merry clinking sounds against the side of the Coffee Cup with the Salad Fork until it all comes together into a nice creamy dressing. It should take about four (4) tablespoons of Oyl and take a whopping ten (10) to fifteen (15) seconds for everything to come together. This is called an emulsion; yes, I know, a .50-cent word.

Woo Hoo!! You’ve got salad dressing! And, you didn’t even have to pay Paul Newman.

Gee, complicated, hunh??

Important Note
Now, to be realistic for a moment, there are a couple of pitfalls here despite the simplicity of this recipe.

Sometimes, the dressing will “break” on you. What that means is that the emulsion, there’s that word again, does not come together to form a nice creamy dressing. It will look a lot like raw broken eggs with streaks of mustard and olive oil.

As we all know, water and oil do not mix, like your in-laws. So, how do you get them to mate without using horrible additives such as Xanthan Gum like the professional salad dressing manufacturers use? By creating your own emulsion. All an emulsion is, is a suspension of fat and water that does not separate. Plain old milk, yes, Moo Juice, is an emulsion of sorts. The reason milk is white is due to the fat content. Milk is simply fat suspended in water, ever wonder why skimmed milk is blue? It’s closer to plain water simply due to the lack of white fat. The homogenization and pasteurization processes keep the curds and whey, i.e. fat and water, from separating in the refrigerator case. But, if you've ever been on a dairy farm, raw whole milk will separate with the crème rising to the top. The same thing happens with salad dressing. That’s why the commercial salad dressing companies add all sorts of stabilizers (Polysorbate 80 anyone??) to their products.

If your dressing does “break”, i.e. separates, do not fear. Adding a smidge more mustard and a drop of vinegar will do the trick. The mustard acts as an adhesive, or in technical terms, an emulsifier to keep things together, like Guar Gum, another widely used commercial emulsifier, I think I'm tired of that word. Merely keep adding very small amounts of mustard and a few drops of vinegar and keep stirring like a mambo player until everything comes together. You will know when you have a nice silky smooth dressing.

Now, if the dressing simply will not come together, it means that you have too much water, i.e. too much mustard and vinegar, or it’s a really humid day at the beach house that you are renting. Just slowly add some more Olive Oyl in a stream and keep stirring until you have a nice creamy dressing.

Won’t take but a minute.

Totally simple.

Coffee Cup Dressing Explanations
The above recipe is for a Dijon Mustard Coffee Cup Dressing. Aside from the blindly obvious use over a green salad, this is wonderful over steamed asparagus, green beans, or brocccolli. Just make sure to dress the vegetables at the last minute before service, or, better yet, leave the dressing on the side to be added at will, tableside, by your guests.

The above amount of dressing should coat enough greens for about four (4) salad course portions.

This dressing can also be combined with some breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, and minced garlic as a crust for a rack of lamb. Just mix the dressing and the other ingredients in a bowl to form a paste and slather the backside of the rack of lamb with the mixture like you are doing a mud job on a tile floor, just watch “This Old House” for details. Then bake the rack of  lamb. Everyone will wonder what you did.

This particular dressing is a staple in my house and the variations and applications simply endless.

This what the salad dressing manufactures do not want you to know, how easy this stuff is to make and all of the other groovy things you can do with it.

Now this list is endless.

The following basic variations are meant to give you some ideas in order to create your own epic salad dressings.

All of the techniques from above remain the same with a few small changes here and there.

Feel free to play and modify at will.

Be creative!

Here's an example :

Honey Dijon Coffee Cup Salad Dressing
Now, if you like honey mustard dressing, simply add a small dollop of your favorite Honey, not your significant other, and a small splash of either Red Wine or Cider vinegar to the Dijon Mustard in the Coffee Cup. Mix it up with the Salad Fork. Add the Olive Oyl and make your emulsion. This can be used as a dressing over whatever greens you have on hand, chopped Chard being a favorite, or, as a glaze with grilled chicken or pork chops. Also, this is killer as a dip with grilled or steamed “ginormo” shrimp for a passed appetizer during a cockytail party or with an appetizer course. Personally, I like it as a dressing for a light lunch. Just place the cooked shrimp on top some bitter greens and drizzle with the dressing. A perfect summer afternoon right there.

It's all up to you.

©2010 Wait At The Bar, Inc.

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