Why is it called vinaigrette?
"Vinaigrette...The word, which originated as a diminutive form of French vinaigre (vinegar), was first used in English as long ago as 1699 (John Evely mentioned it in his book on salads, Acetaria) but it did not really become established until the end of the nineteenth century. French dressing, which originated around 1900, is a widely used synonym in British English. In French, vinaigrette was also applied formerly to a sort of small two-wheeled carriage, from a supposed resemblance to a vinegar-seller's cart."
---A-Z of Food and Drink, John Ayto [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 2002 (p. 359)
What actually IS a vinaigrette?
Well there is no totally fixed recipe for this, one of the common authorities on any French recipe is
the Larousse Gastronomic.
"Vinaigrette. A cold sauce made from a mixture of vinegar oil, pepper, and salt, to which various flavourings may be added...Vinaigrette is used especially for dressing green salads...It is considred to be a typically French sauce and is often called "French dressing" in Britain.
It was a French emigre, Chevalier d'Albingac, who started the fashion in London high society for salads dressed in this way."
---Larousse Gastronomique, Jenifer Harvey Lang [Crown:New York] 1988 (p. 1137)
When was it first made?
Though the use of oil and vinegar to dress vegetables is as old as ancient Greece and Rome, The term vinaigrette goes back to at least 1699 in John Evelyn's book on salads called Acetaria
Here is a start for the recipe for cucumber salad
20. Cucumber, Cucumis; tho' very cold and moiſt, the moſt approved Sallet alone, or in Compoſition, of all the Vinaigrets, to ſharpen the Appetite, and cool the Liver, 16&c. You can read the whole book here
French dressing, which originated around 1900, is a widely used synonym in British English for Vinaigrette.
Here is another sample from the book Acetaria.....
Sellery, apium Italicum, (and of the Petrofeline Family) was formerly a stranger with us (nor very long since in Italy) is an hot and more generous sort of Macedonian Persley or Smallage. The tender Leaves of the Blancht Stalk do well in our Sallet, as likewise the slices of the whiten’d Stems, which being crimp and short, first peel’d and slit long wise, are eaten with Oyl, Vinegar, Salt, and Peper; and for its high and grateful Taste, is ever plac’d in the middle of the Grand Sallet, at our Great Mens Tables and Praetors Feasts, as the Grace of the whole Board. Caution is to be given of a small red Worm, often lurking in these Stalks, as does the green in Fennil.
Some basic background info that makes olive oil special.
The Greeks and Romans are credited with learning to salt, add vinegar and oil to their vegetables.
Greece claims to discovering the first olive tree and using it. Vinegar invented itself, by wines going bad when they are exposed to oxygen.
The Olive tree was considered very important in Greek culture, even the olive branch, was a symbol of peace. It was practically worshiped and used as a symbol for many things, even a wreath of olive branches was worn by a bride.
To the left, Ancient Olive trees in Pelion,Greece where olives were said to be discovered first. Some are said to be 2000 years old.
How do you make a vinaigrette?
Use 2 - 3 parts of good oil , to 1 part vinegar is what most recipes say.
The most common additions are mustard, shallots or onions, and herbs like basil, dill, or parsley.
Dijon mustard seems to be a natural emulsifier to make the sauce creamy without using a thickener.
The most common oils to use are olive and Canola.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the oil skimmed off the top of fresh crushed olives. It is light and fruity. The next oil comes from putting the skins in a heavy press. This oil is less desirable.
Extra virgin olive oil is very mild in flavor.
Canola is made from the rapeseed and is very light in flavor and texture.
Both Olive oil and Canola have a high amount of what is called "Good Fats" which are monosaturated Fats.
Read more about the breakdown of fats in different oils here
A man skimming the virgin olive oil off the top of freshly crushed olives.
Courtesy of Olive Tree Horticulture
Some Favorite Vinegars
Apple Cider Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar
Red Wine Vinegar
Rice Wine Vinegar
Sherry Wine Vinegar (One of Bobby Flay's favorites)
Basic Recipe for Vinaigrette with step by step pictures
Come into my kitchen and let's make Basic Vinaigrette