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I failed at my first vinaigrette dressing

I decided tonight to make a vinaigrette dressing for my salad. This was my first attempt at making my own salad dressing. Everything I've read online makes it sound easy. But somehow I managed to screw it up. My dressing came out very thick, like a mayonnaise almost. It tastes good, but it's unattractive, and it's definitely far thicker than what I was aiming for. I wanted a thin dressing.

I think the problem was that I used a blender, and the oil thickened too much as a result. I probably should have just shaken it up.

Here is my recipe and process.

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup basalmic vinegar
1 whole habanero pepper, seeded
1 teaspoon coarse ground mustard (prepared)
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano
fresh thyme, about a teaspoon

I dissolved the salt in the vinegar, then poured it and all the other ingredients into the blender and blended on the highest setting for 30 or 40 seconds.

I made up this recipe based upon the proportions used in a number of other vinaigrette dressing recipes I found on the web. What I ended up with looks like basalmic mayonnaise. What I wanted was a thin vinaigrette that would spread easily over my salad greens.

What did I do wrong? Is there a way to fix it? Right now, it observes the 3:1 oil to vinegar ratio, but I'm considering just stirring in more vinegar to thin it out.

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  1. Over-emulsification sounds like the issue here - This recipe is correct, proportionally speaking. You might just do it by hand next time, but to fix this, I'd whisk in a bit of vinegar mixed w/ hot water, and adjust the seasoning accordingly.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      As soon as I saw "....then poured it and all the other ingredients into the blender " I knew the issue. Over-emulsified. Yup.

      Just whisk with a fork in a bowl. Or I put ingredients in a jar or old condiment container and just shake. Don't go so crazy with dressings.

      Have you used store purchased dressings all your life? Just wondering what you used prior to this.

      1. re: thegforceny

        Ok, over-emulsified was my prime suspicion too. From now on I'll either whisk or shake. Thank you both, mamachef and thegforceny, for the verdict.

        Yes, I've used store purchased dressings all my life. I want to make my own from now on so I can control what's in them. I would prefer to avoid added sugars, certain types of oil, and sundry other ingredients in commercial dressings.

        1. re: Maque Choux

          You might be able to salvage your dressing for use later. Store it in the fridge for a couple days and see if it separates. If it does, just shake and use.

    2. My favorite vinaigrette: 3 parts good olive oil plus to one red wine vinegar. Chop up a clove of garlic and let it sit in the OO on the kitchen counter for a couple hours. Fish out the garlic and throw it away. Add the vinegar, 1/4 tsp. salt, a couple grinds of black pepper, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon prepared Dijon mustard, a drop of Worcestershire. Shake in a jar or whisk until blended. That's it, it really enhances the taste of the vegetables without overpowering them.

      2 Replies
      1. re: pasuga

        My dressings usually involve a slosh of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon and salt/pepper mixed into a bowl of whatever I've scrounged from the garden.
        I've got many, many liters of homemade cider vinegar, which is good instead of lemon.

        1. re: pasuga

          without getting too ridiculously technical -- try going the other way. If you put the herbs/flavorings into the vinegar, they'll be hydrated and absorbed faster.

          Then add the oil to the vinegar, not the other way round -- it all gets pretty bookish and nerdy, but you make a much more stable emulsion by adding the oil to the vinegar (WIF -- Water In First -- in this case, water-based ingredients)

          Even Good Seasonings (the packet of powder that comes with a glass cruet) does it this way. You add the vinegar and the water, add the spices and shake, then add the oil.

          Mine is usually wine or cider vinegar, the herbs that look good today, and a spoonful of Dijon mustard, then a good olive oil. (vinegar and herbs tends to drift with my mood, as does the occasional addition of a good drizzle of honey)

        2. BTW, Maque Choux: 'Tis never a fail if you learn something from it. I applaud your initiative to try!!(And now, you kinda know how to make an herbal mayo, which is something a LOT of people can't do - or haven't got the patience to attempt - so good on you!)

          1. WAY, Way too many ingredients.

            Start simple, oil, vinegar (simple, not balsamic, or lemon juice), salt and pepper.

            IMO, scrap the habanero, use pepper flake instead.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Maximilien

              Why do you say no lemon juice? I use lemon juice quite often, it makes a lovely dressing.

              1. re: Joyfull


                I've also had great results using lemon juice.

              2. I appreciate all the encouragement and suggestions. I will simplify ingredients and process next time as many of you suggested.

                I ended up with a cup of total volume, so it'll take me a week to finish it before I make another. It's not entirely bad, just not what I was looking for in consistency, and the flavors are a bit of a muddle. So the next one will have red wine vinegar instead of basalmic, and I'll minimize the ingredients so as to avoid confusion to the palate. And I'll add the herbs and spices to the vinegar, then add the oil to it when mixing, by hand rather than by blender.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Maque Choux

                  You could use the already made dressing for a potato, tomato or pasta salad, which would help use it up. Another use could be to marinate chicken or steak.

                  If it's a simple green salad, I like M. Hazan's method. Olive oil into the salad, toss to coat. She says Americans don't use enough oil. Then add vinegar of choice sparingly and salt and pepper. Sounds boring, but I've received compliments with it.

                  1. re: Jimisi

                    >>If it's a simple green salad, I like M. Hazan's method. Olive oil into the salad, toss to coat. She says Americans don't use enough oil. Then add vinegar of choice sparingly and salt and pepper.<<


                  2. re: Maque Choux

                    Add water or more oil/vinegar to it to thin it out.
                    And speaking of water as an ingredient, besides the obvious thinning out, sometimes a less potent dressing is desirable--with delicate greens I find this especially so, and water is often overlooked in lieu of more oil which is not always ideal, IMO.

                    And I agree about too many ingredients. Oil, vinegar or lemon juice, maybe some shallot, salt and pepper are my standard ingredients. Herbs, garlic and a dab of mustard or sweetener are optional, as is changing up the type of vinegar or citrus and oil for variety.

                    1. re: splatgirl

                      There really are a lot of options within the simple formula as you point out. One thing I do sometimes if I want a fruity flavor, is whisk in a little berry or apricot jam. It works well.

                      1. re: Jimisi

                        but master a basic vinaigrette first...THEN fiddle with it with jams and honey and changing out vinegars and oils.

                        once you have the mechanics down, the flavors are easy....but if you don't have the mechanics down, you just end up with a weird-looking oily mess.

                  3. My favorite and most simple dressing comes from Alice Waters. It's simple and with few ingredients.


                    It's truly delicious. I've swapped out the garlic for ginger, I change up my acid - or do a mix of lemon juice and white wine vinegar, add some herbs here and there. It always gets rave reviews.

                    Maybe you aren't looking for other recipes, but I can't resist sharing this simple one!

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: tiffeecanoe

                      I'd learn to make a simple dressing like this before you go crazy with powders and chilis. Mix simply with a whisk, it doesn't even need to fully emulsify but if you really like it to be emulsified then use a bit of mustard.

                      As for your current dressing, if the acide is where you like it just thin with some warm water.

                    2. The ground musatrd and honey also thickened your dresing.

                      In a clean galss jar with a lid:

                      Olive oil and red or white wine vinegar. Start with a 3:1 proportion. I like mine more acidic.
                      Prepared dijon mustard, maybe a teapoo for a cup of dressin.

                      Crushed fresh garlic.

                      A hit of soy sauce. Add salt as needed.

                      A pinch of sugar.

                      Shake until combined.

                      Another restaurant secret is a bit of chicken broth. Like a teaspoon.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: C. Hamster

                        It's not so much that the mustard and honey thicken it, but they help emulsify it - along with the vigorous mixing by the blender. A mixture of just oil and vinegar (which is mostly water) separates quickly, though if done in the blender that separation will be slower.

                        The usual ratio for mayo is 1 egg yolk for about a cup of oil. But food scientist H McGee argues that one yolk is enough to emulsify a dozen cups of oil. And yolks are the only emulsion stabilizer.

                        If effect, you made mayo, or at least a mayo like emulsion.

                      2. If you're only making it for one or two people, you might want to think about just whisking it up in the bottom of a big salad bowl. Start with the vinegar, mustard and seasonings, whisk in the oil a bit at a time. If it emulsifies, great. If not, don't worry because when you toss your salad it will get evenly coated.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: escondido123

                          this is my standard practice (you also don't get a salad marinating in a pool of dressing this way -- something I abhor)

                        2. Great suggestions, all. I thinned it with some red wine vinegar, and now it has a nice acidity. It was too sweet before.

                          I'm definitely going for simple on my next one.

                          1. I have two I use a lot:

                            3 tbsp. EVOO to 1 tbsp. red wine vinegar (strongly recommend starting your own crocks of red and white wine vinegar, but that is another story) plus about 1/2 tsp. Maille Dijon. Shake furiously but briefly in a jar with some room (the ingredients should fill less than half the jar).

                            2 1/2 tbsp. peanut oil, to 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar plus 1/2 tsp. Maille Dijon.

                            The first is pretty classic for a mixed tossed salad. I add sea salt to the salad before tossing. The second is very bright and is knockout on either a plate of avocados and tomato wedges, topped with thinly sliced sweet onion and finished with coarse grey salt or tossed in sparing amounts with Bibb lettuce and a little of the salt of your choice. On the latter salad using the vinaigrette sparingly is key. I save a tall capers or olives bottle for shaking vinaigrette; the shape is perfect.

                            1. My go-to vinaigrette pretty much follows the same formula as everyone else's - 3 parts olive oil to 1 part vinegar, plus seasonings. My standard is 1/4 cup balsamic vinaigrette, dollop of dijon mustard, some herbes de provence, kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and 3/4 cup olive oil, shaken in a cruet, or hand wisked in a small bowl. I recently started using half & half of Balsamic & Sherry Vinegar -- i.e., l/8 cup each -- in place of the 1/4 cup balsamic. And, sometimes, I'll substitute lemon juice for the vinegar, especially for a salad that features blanched asparagus where the lemon astringency is a real complement.