Make This Into Salad Dressing, Please
December 18, 2013 9:13 AM   Subscribe

A few weeks ago I had dinner at Oh Canada, Eh? and the meal included the most amazing salad dressing I've ever had. We asked for the recipe and the chef gave us the ingredient list, but did not include amounts because (he said) he always makes it in such huge batches.

I've tried three or four times to replicate the dressing and I'm just not getting it. It was very light, slightly lemony and so delicious we all would have happily eaten it with a spoon. Here are the ingredients:

Olive Oil
Garlic Powder
Hot Sauce
Fresh Lemon Juice

My attempts so far have been based on lemon vinaigrette recipes from the internet but they're generally too oily and lack the lovely, nuanced flavor of the original. Any recipes or ideas, MetaFilter?
posted by kate blank to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hard to say how much of which ingredients would work without having tasted it...but are you properly emulsifying the dressing when you make it? People are often not so good at this, and it creates the heavy/oily feeling you're reporting. The oil and other liquids should be so well-mixed that the end result is light and almost frothy.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 9:18 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Olive oil should be drizzled in slowly and everything whisked while adding the o/o. Under-pour and taste, and then add, again, very slowly. Hot sauce, Worcestershire and sugar are high flavor, so I would underrepresent these too, and increase as you taste.

Also, think about garlic vs. garlic powder!
posted by thinkpiece at 9:26 AM on December 18, 2013

OK, so a salad dressing is an emulsion of oil and acid.

Looking at your list, in the oil column you've got Olive Oil. Easy enough.

In the acid column you've got vinegar and lemon juice. Because you said the dressing tasted lemony, I'm guessing you should err on the side of more lemon juice.

It's easy enough to google up the ratios for a basic vinaigrette: 3 units of oil to 1 unit of acid seems to be pretty typical. So you might try 6 tablespoons of olive oil to a tablespoon and a half of lemon juice and a half tablespoon of vinegar.

For the rest of the ingredients, I'd start with just a dash of each and alter to taste.
posted by Sara C. at 9:27 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Call him back and see if you can get the ratios.
posted by Flamingo at 9:35 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: are you properly emulsifying the dressing when you make it?

This is a great point -- it was much less oily tasting when I used my hand blender than when I used my regular blender. So that's probably emulsifying better and I'll use that for future attempts.

It's easy enough to google up the ratios for a basic vinaigrette: 3 units of oil to 1 unit of acid seems to be pretty typical.

For the rest of the ingredients, I'd start with just a dash of each and alter to taste.

Yes, sure, but I did that three or four times and it just wasn't coming close!
posted by kate blank at 9:36 AM on December 18, 2013

I suspect you probably should be using more sugar. That will allow you to increase the lemon juice and end up with something that reads as "lemony" rather than "harshly acidic." (Also, restaurant food almost always has more sugar, salt, and fat than people allow themselves in their own cooking.)
posted by neroli at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

Is there a particular brand of hot sauce and eorcestershire sauce he uses?
posted by spunweb at 9:38 AM on December 18, 2013

Did it taste strongly of anything else aside from lemon?

Did it taste spicy?

Did it taste savory?

Did it taste herbal?

I would err on the side of adding more sugar and salt, since the magical secret answer to "HOW DOES THIS TASTE SO GOOD" is often one of those two.
posted by Sara C. at 9:40 AM on December 18, 2013

There are so many kinds of vinegar, with so many different flavor profiles! Even though the recipe says "vinegar" the chef might not be using plain old distilled vinegar; he could be using white balsamic or a fruit-infused vinegar of some kind. I'd try white balsamic and see if it adds the kind of depth you're missing.
posted by third rail at 9:47 AM on December 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

A couple more thoughts:

-- Are you using the dressing right after you're making it? Because it would take a while for the flavor of the herbs to fully infuse in the vinaigrette. If the chef is making this in huge batches, it's sitting around for a while.

-- Is the ingredient list in the order he gave it to you? Because it's kind of interesting that the lemon juice is last, not up with the vinegar. Maybe that's a clue.

Given that, I would try making a sweeter-than-usual vinaigrette, using everything but the lemon juice, and letting it sit about an hour. Then, right before serving, add the lemon juice and shake or whisk to re-emulsify.
posted by neroli at 9:55 AM on December 18, 2013

You might also find out what kind of olive oil they're using at the restaurant. Extra virgin vs virgin, country of origin, is it peppery or smooth, etc. The flavor profiles of olive oil vary so, so widely that I imagine this would have a big impact on your final product.
posted by hungrybruno at 9:57 AM on December 18, 2013

As mentioned above, 1:3 to 1:4 is the typical salad dressing ratio for oil to acid. If it's too acid, don't be afraid to dial it back. If it's too oily, lemon juice, in particular will cut that. I would aim for a cup of finished dressing, so 3/4 c oil to 1/4 lemon juice + vinegar is a good place to start.

The real problem is the ratio of lj to vinegar. Start with half and half and assess if it too lemony or not enough. I'd be careful about going too far with it. The vinegar is there to keep the bite of the acid without the lemon flavour overpowering.

Looking at the ingredient list, the only emulsifier is the garlic powder. So that's a critical ingredient in making certain that the dressing doesn't break. If you don't like garlic, you can use mustard powder or paprika, but you need some sort of stabilizer to avoid rapid oil/vinegar separations. 1 teaspoon (5 mL) is a typical starting point.

Add the powder (and spices, etc..) to the lemon/vinegar mixture, then whisk in the oil in a slow stream to get the best emulsion. You can also do this in a stand blender (pour the oil in the top) or with a stick blender in a beaker. Just don't pour the oil faster than it can be incorporated into the acid phase. If you see seperate globs of oil, or a layer, you're going too fast. The dressing should look like a single liquid, not one layer floating on another.

Sugar is also important to mellow the acid. How much depends on how sugary the lemon juice is. Typical tart lemons we get in Canada in winter are going to need a reasonable amount, say a couple of teaspoons to a table spoon (10 to 15 mL). You may need to experiment. This is one of those less than healthy flavour enhancers used by chefs, that home cooks often shy away from. Don't be afraid to try more than you think is necessary.

Once you've got the base right, you can work on the seasonings by pinches and dashes.

Finally, don't forget to use salt, even in your first tries. Restaurants are typically very generous, so again don't be afraid of it.
posted by bonehead at 10:28 AM on December 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

The kind of vinegar you use is gonna be, as someone above said, very important. Try to find out what the original contained.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 10:47 AM on December 18, 2013

Most likely suspects for vinegar:

- red wine vinegar
- white wine or champagne vinegar
- balsamic

It's less likely that they'll use plain white vinegar, and not terribly likely that they're using something super obscure or upscale unless it was a very fancy restaurant. If it is Asian inspired at all (I'm guessing not, due to the ingredients and the name of the restaurant), maybe rice wine vinegar?
posted by Sara C. at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2013

I would actually start with neutral vinegar. Subtle lemony tastes can be overwhelmed by other strong fruit (wine) flavours, so I'd be a bit cautious there. If anything, I'd be looking to add a bit of lemon zest to the recipe to bump the lemon flavour without adding extra acid.
posted by bonehead at 10:59 AM on December 18, 2013

Response by poster: When we were trying to guess the ingredient list, we could tell for sure it had fresh lemon and oregano in it, and we assumed it had salt/sugar. The hot sauce and the Worcestershire sauce were a total surprise. It was lemony and herby.

So far I've used white vinegar, white wine vinegar and rice vinegar. I assumed it couldn't have regular balsamic vinegar in it because the color was so light, but it might have had white balsamic vinegar in it (which I have just learned is a Thing).
posted by kate blank at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2013

Salt helps counter the oily feeling/taste you get from olive oil in salad dressings make sure you are using enough. Professional chefs use way more salt in everything than most people so in their own kitchens.
posted by wwax at 11:17 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you can find champagne vinegar, you might try that. It has ended up being the secret ingredient in many restaurant dressings I've tried to replicate at home (and perhaps try honey instead of sugar, it emulsifies easier than sugar and can make a big difference in taste).
posted by stellaluna at 11:42 AM on December 18, 2013

Cider vinegar might be worth trying - I always find it plays well with lemon.

Also a vinaigrette can be made with a higher oil ratio than the usual 1:3 or 1:4; I've made ones with up to 1:6 when I'm incorporating strong flavours like mustard powder or lots of garlic.

The kind of olive oil you use can also make a huge difference; e.g. a deep green, pungent olive oil vs. a light, pale one. Strongly flavoured olive oils can acquire a bitter taste if overworked e.g. using a hand blender to emulsify, whisking by hand can be better in this case.
posted by protorp at 12:12 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with protorp. I would try cider vinegar. I doubt it would be something weird like white balsamic. Something like that would be hard to justify in mass quantities. I make a lot of salad dressings and my ratio of oil to vinegar is much lower than typical but I like my dressings tangy. I'd riff off of what bonehead said, you might need something else to help emulsify. If I want a stable emulsion, I add a spot of dijon mustard. But I'll also say that one of the best vinaigrettes I have ever had was not an emulsion and was as simple as olive oil, tomato juice, and garlic.

If I were on a mission to recreate this, I would first start adding everything but oil and acids. Try to get the extras right. Then, taking bits of this base you have just made, start adding known ratios of acid and oil until you get the ratio that seems right. If you are using fresh herbs/garlic, don't just chop them, smash them up, abuse them! They will taste better if they are bruised and weepy.

I also agree with others that your oil can have a huge impact. I use a fruity olive oil that can be found in the supermarket (Lucini) and it really makes my dressings better.
posted by Foam Pants at 1:11 PM on December 18, 2013

you might also consider that it's pretty common for people to leave out one important ingredient when giving recipes - nothing that will spoil the result, but something that will change it ever so slightly.
posted by nadawi at 2:39 PM on December 18, 2013

Re:type of vinegar, I would vote for white wine or champagne vinegar. I have also made nice salad dressings with sherry vinegar, if you find that.
I'd echo what was said above, consider mincing some fresh garlic instead of using the powder.
A touch of Dijon mustard (1/4 tsp?) can help dressing emulsify. Maybe try that instead of the Worcestershire?
posted by maryrussell at 5:22 PM on December 18, 2013

You might want to consider using canola oil or a very very mild olive oil, if you are using a "good" olive oil right now. There's no way that dinner theater is using premium ingredients, and the mild taste of a very light-tasting oil could what's causing the problem.

Also: Salt. Restaurant salads have TONS more salt in them than you'd think. So add more!
posted by Kololo at 10:16 PM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes people also use more than one type of vinegar. For example, 3 T of balsamic and 1 T of rice vinegar yields a different flavor and mouth feel than straight balsamic. You might try letting everything but the oils sit for a good 15 minutes or so before you start emulsifying so that the acids have time to release delicious things from the other ingredients.
posted by purple_bird at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2013

Time is really important to flavour in dressings. The taste after a day in the fridge will be very different than fresh.
posted by bonehead at 10:02 AM on December 19, 2013

Response by poster: Based on various comments in the thread I: added more salt, ramped up the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and sugar and used my hand blender instead of my regular blender. That resulted in something much more like the dressing I had there and I'll continue to tweak. Thanks!
posted by kate blank at 9:05 AM on December 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

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