Foolproof Vinaigrette

From Season 11: Steak Frites

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 consi...(more)

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Basic vinaigrette has a fundamental problem: It doesn’t stay together. We sought a way to make oil and vinegar form a long-term bond.

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Makes about 1/4 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. This vinaigrette works with nearly any type of green. For a hint of garlic flavor, rub the inside of the salad bowl with a clove of garlic before adding the lettuce.

  • 1 tablespoon wine vinegar (see note)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons very finely minced shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoon regular or light mayonnaise
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon table salt
  •   Ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

·         1. Combine vinegar, shallot, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste in small nonreactive bowl. Whisk until mixture is milky in appearance and no lumps of mayonnaise remain.

·         2. Place oil in small measuring cup so that it is easy to pour. Whisking constantly, very slowly drizzle oil into vinegar mixture. If pools of oil are gathering on surface as you whisk, stop addition of oil and whisk mixture well to combine, then resume whisking in oil in slow stream. Vinaigrette should be glossy and lightly thickened, with no pools of oil on its surface.


·         Emulsification Magic

A thoroughly emulsified vinaigrette is the key to the best flavor. Many vinaigrettes contain an agent that helps oil and vinegar combine into a unified sauce (and stay that way). We tested three emulsifiers—mustard, egg yolk, and mayonnaise—to find out which would hold the dressing together longest.


Using separate stand mixers fitted with whisk attachments, we created three vinaigrettes: We added ¼ cup of vinegar to the bowl of each mixer, then added 1 tablespoon of mustard to one mixer, cracked an egg yolk into the second, and used 1 tablespoon of mayo in the third. Then we drizzled ¾ cup of oil into each mixer over the course of 30 seconds, with the mixers running at medium-high speed. Finally, we placed all blended samples on the counter and tracked their progress at 15-minute intervals. As a control, we also made one vinaigrette in a stand mixer with no emulsifier.


The egg yolk vinaigrette was still stable after more than three hours, making it the runaway winner for stability. The vinaigrette with mayonnaise showed signs of separation after 1½ hours, while the one with mustard started to break apart after only 30 minutes. The control began separating immediately and was almost completely separated after the first 15-minute interval.


Egg yolks contain a high percentage of lecithin, one of a group of fatty compounds known as phospholipids that act as potent emulsifiers, keeping oil droplets suspended within vinegar. Mayonnaise is made in part from egg yolk and therefore contains phospholipids, but a much smaller amount, so dressing made with mayonnaise was stable for a shorter time. The emulsifying component in mustard is a complex polysaccharide that is less effective than the lecithin found in egg yolks and mayonnaise.


Despite its superior stability, tasters rejected the vinaigrette made with egg yolk as too eggy. We ended up using ½ teaspoon of mayonnaise to emulsify our dressing and adding ½ teaspoon of mustard for flavor.

Vinaigrettes made with oil and vinegar alone completely separated after 15 minutes.

Vinaigrettes made with our mayo-based emulsion held together for 1 1/2 hours.