WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Vinaigrettes often seem a little slipshod—harsh and bristling in one bite, dull and oily in the next. We were determined to nail down a formula for the perfect vinaigrette, one that would consistently yield a homogeneous, harmonious blend of bright vinegar and rich oil in every forkful.
For starters, top-notch ingredients are crucial. Balsamic vinegar works best with more assertive greens. Fruity extra-virgin olive oil is preferred as an all-purpose oil option, while walnut oil is best for nuttier vinaigrettes. As for mixing methods, whisking together the ingredients only gets you so far. A key ingredient—mayonnaise—is necessary to emulsify (bind together) the oil and vinegar for a stabilized, smooth dressing.
MAKES ABOUT ¼ CUP, ENOUGH TO DRESS 8 TO 10 CUPS LIGHTLY PACKED GREENS
Red wine, white wine, or champagne vinegar will work in this recipe; however, it is important to use high-quality ingredients (for our top-rated brands of white wine vinegar and red wine vinegar and for our top-rated brand of extra-virgin olive oil). This vinaigrette works with nearly any type of green (as do the walnut and herb variations). For a hint of garlic flavor, rub the inside of the salad bowl with a cut clove of garlic before adding the lettuce.
1. Combine the vinegar, shallot, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste in a small nonreactive bowl. Whisk until the mixture is milky in appearance and no lumps of mayonnaise remain.
2. Place the oil in a small measuring cup so that it is easy to pour. Whisking constantly, very slowly drizzle the oil into the vinegar mixture. If pools of oil are gathering on the surface as you whisk, stop adding the oil and whisk the mixture well to combine, then resume whisking in the oil in a slow stream. The vinaigrette should be glossy and lightly thickened, with no pools of oil on its surface.
Foolproof Lemon Vinaigrette
This vinaigrette is best for dressing mild greens.
Follow the recipe for Foolproof Vinaigrette, substituting lemon juice for the vinegar, omitting the shallot, and adding ¼ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest and a pinch of sugar along with the salt and pepper.
Foolproof Balsamic-Mustard Vinaigrette
This vinaigrette is best for dressing assertive greens. for our top-rated brand of balsamic vinegar.
Follow the recipe for Foolproof Vinaigrette, substituting balsamic vinegar for the wine vinegar, increasing the mustard to 2 teaspoons, and adding ½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme along with the salt and pepper.
Foolproof Walnut Vinaigrette
Follow the recipe for Foolproof Vinaigrette, substituting 1½ tablespoons roasted walnut oil and 1½ tablespoons regular olive oil for the extra-virgin olive oil.
Foolproof Herb Vinaigrette
Follow the recipe for Foolproof Vinaigrette, adding 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves or chives and ½ teaspoon minced fresh thyme, tarragon, marjoram, or oregano leaves to the vinaigrette just before use.