Saturday, July 21, 2007

Thick Shallot Dressing

The plethora of salad dressings in my friend's refrigerators were a source of great fascination and delight when I was growing up. My mother never bothered much with bottled dressings, raising us on her stark, crisp, actually quite beautiful house simple oil and vinegar mix. As a child I would enjoy an afternoon salad with friends where we would slather our salads with thickened goopy toppings. These days I avoid these kinds of dressings mainly because I prefer to know exactly what's going on my salad!

However much I love a simple vinaigrette, I sometimes want a nice thick salad dressing that recalls my childhood afternoon salads with special friends. I have learned in the process of making my own house dressings over the years that there are lots of 100% natural ways to get a nice thick one batch dressing. One thickener is egg yolk, which gives you that creamy mayonnaise effect with little effort. Mustard powder also is a natural thickener. Shallots, when pureed into the mix, give a great thickening effect. Creme fraiche makes an appearance now and then, as well as of course the classic bleus.

One of my childhood salad friends asked me the other day for ideas about how to use the shallots in her garden. Aside from chopping them up and using them absolutely everywhere, I mentioned that I like to throw one into a pureed vinaigrette, because not only does it add a wonderful flavor, it naturally thickens the sauce.

For Thick Shallot Dressing:

4 Tbsp. oil of your choice, I often mix fruity olive and walnut
1 Tbsp. vinegar of your choice plus more as you mix, if needed
1 shallot
a teaspoon of capers
1/2 tsp. sea salt
3 black peppercorns
2 Tbsp. meat pan drippings or reduced stock (optional)
chopped chives and other fresh herbs you have on hand (optional)

About vinegar: A few weeks ago, while working on a recipe, I got into a discussion with a journalist about vinegar. As we all know, the quality of vinegars varies widely from town to town, kitchen cabinet to pantry. With the range of vinegars available today, set proportions are rarely ever reliable. I usually keep three or four vinegars in the cabinet, for different uses. Why not experiment with all kinds? I will not reject a certain vinegar because it isn't expensive! Simple yellow apple cider vinegar is always on hand, and the simple ones made from wine, Sherry and Banyuls in my cabinet at the moment, are cheap and plentiful here. Good aged balsamic vinegar is present in my kitchen but it rarely ever gets wasted in vinaigrettes!

Begin with the oil, pan drippings or stock should you have any on hand, the whole small shallot, salt, and peppercorns in the mixing cup of your blender. Puree the mix thoroughly, and add the vinegar by the half-tablespoon, tasting along the way, until it reaches the flavor balance you like. Mince and add your herbs, whisking them into the dressing by hand. This dressing thickens nicely and is excellent served over simmered lentils, with mixed greens, or in composed salads.



Blogger Kitt said...

Yum! A lovely simple dressing recipe to try. Thanks!

I wonder what this would taste like if you sauteed the shallots first, carmelizing them a bit.

4:35 PM, July 21, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

It would probably taste pretty good, kitt!

4:58 PM, July 21, 2007  
Blogger Katie Zeller said...

Oooh, I'll like this! I've never thought to puree shallots to thicken a vinaigrette!
I use Greek or plain yogurt to thicken mine, sometimes. With lots of herbs and garlic it's kind of like the old bottled Ranch!
Last time I was in the U.S. I looked at the ingredients on a 'light' dressing... I didn't recognize much in the way of actual food... I didn't buy it...

5:05 PM, July 22, 2007  

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