Eaters Digest


Perfect Vinaigrettes: Appetizers to Desserts
By Linda Dannenberg, photographs by Zeva Oelbaum
(Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $19.95, 112 pp.)

Tossed with salad greens, drizzled over poached fish, pooled around a nest of steamed vegetables, marinating a rib roast or glossing a plateful of sliced potatoes — in this cookbook, Linda Dannenberg explores the varied possibilities for the humble vinaigrette.

Dannenberg, who has written nine previous books about French food, lifestyle and design, notes that the vinaigrette — at its most basic, a mixture of oil and vinegar — is a wonderful sauce. Yes, a sauce: Vinaigrette has been officially considered a sauce since the 19th century in France, and has been used broadly in other cultures such as Greek, Canadian, Chinese and Caribbean cooking.

The magic, suggests Dannenberg, starts with a good basic vinaigrette. But creating a fine and well-balanced vinaigrette requires a bit of trial and error, as well as a basic understanding of its components and how they work in synthesis.

So, before you enter the world of vinaigrettes, it's necessary to have a selection of good oils, vinegars and mustards, some fine sea salt and a jar of black peppercorns.

From there, you can follow many of the recipes in this book. One of the easiest is the Purist's Vinaigrette:

1 tablespoon good aged red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the vinegar, salt and several generous turns of pepper in a small bowl. Stir until the salt dissolves. Add the oil and whisk until the ingredients are emulsified.

The Purist's Vinaigrette provides a basic formula. For creating a variety of other vinaigrettes, you can simply add different flavors to the oil and the vinegar, or even use different types of oil or vinegar.

When it comes to using vinaigrettes in other dishes, Dannenberg provides a lot of different choices. Green salads, composed salads, vegetable appetizers, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, and fruit salads (really!) are the main categories.

Most of these recipes are collected from famous chefs, including Ariane Daguin's Dijon-shallot vinaigrette, André Soltner's tangy Lutéce vinaigrette, and three-star chef Pierre Gagnaire's fruited eggplant sauce.

Some of these recipes are fairly complex, such as the piquant parsley-caper vinaigrette for grilled, broiled or braised meats.

Others, however, are easy to prepare and still taste great. Try this basil-lime vinaigrette on grilled fish:

1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves
2 shallots
1/2 small clove garlic
juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a small food processor and process until the mixture is emulsified, about 30 seconds. Spoon over grilled fish.


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