The Salad Dressing Zealots Are as Deluded as Those Who Buy Ready-Made

By Skidelsky, William | New Statesman (1996), August 25, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Salad Dressing Zealots Are as Deluded as Those Who Buy Ready-Made


Skidelsky, William, New Statesman (1996)


Few culinary matters are more vexed than the question of how to make the perfect salad dressing. For such an apparently simple operation, there is remarkably little agreement about how to proceed. Anxiety and debate attend every stage of the process, from ingredients to proportions to the method by which the ingredients are combined. In what proportion should the olive oil be mixed with the vinegar? Is balsamic vinegar preferable to wine vinegar? Should the mixture be emulsified by vigorous shaking in a screw-top jar, or simply mixed with a spoon?

Faced with so many alternatives, it is hardly surprising that most people take the easy route and opt for the bottled variety. But this is a grave mistake. Bottled salad dressings are invariably disgusting. No matter how much care their manufacturers take to make them seem natural and "home-made", there is always that give-away tang, that whiff of chemically assisted emulsification, which immediately identifies them as being factory-made.

At the other end of the scale are the salad dressing zealots. These are people who believe that, when it comes to dressings, there are no shades of grey. There is simply their way of doing things, which is necessarily right in any situation. "Three to one, oil to vinegar," they chant. Such people are invariably blind to the coincidence that their "definitive" method also happens to be the one that their mothers taught them as a child.

In their way, the zealots are just as deluded as those who rely on commercial products. For there is no correct way of making a salad dressing. The best salad chefs are those who look at what ingredients they have and then decide how best to augment them. Salad dressings should perform the same function as pasta sauces: they should enhance the flavour of the primary ingredient (that is, the lettuce or the pasta). In Britain, because most salad ingredients are of such poor quality, we have lost sight of this, and salad dressings have become simply a means to drown the taste of iceberg lettuce and watery tomato.

Given what I have just said, I shall not presume to offer a recipe. …

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