One of the most useful of dressings, a vinaigrette is simply a blend of oil and vinegar, measured to give a balance of emollient and sharp flavours. Usually, a piquant ingredient such as mustard, shallot or garlic is also added, and a vinaigrette should always be seasoned.
A vinaigrette's consistency makes it ideal for clinging to leaves, which is why it's used to dress green salads. But it can be used in all kinds of vegetable dishes, making the ingredients lusciously moist and drawing their flavours together.
Once you know the proportions, you can adapt the basic idea ad infinitum. Work on the ratio of three parts oil to one part vinegar and you can't go wrong. In fact, the beauty of vinaigrette is that it's so easy to correct: if it's too sharp, too oily, or too bland, just add a little more of the appropriate ingredient.
To create your own vinaigrette, try different oils, such as sesame, avocado or walnut. If you use a strong oil, such as sesame, dilute it with a light oil such as sunflower, or the result may be overpowering. You can also try different vinegars (cider, balsamic, sherry; not malt) and flavourings, such as tomatoes, herbs or chilli. Match the ingredients to the dish. A warm salad of roasted root veg will sing dressed with a robust walnut oil, sherry vinegar and garlic vinaigrette, while green beans and pak choi are delicious bathed in a blend of sunflower and sesame oil, rice vinegar and chilli.
The recipe here infuses a basic vinaigrette with saffron, creating a golden dressing for roasted peppers; or fish; or a salad of little gem, croutons, and diced cucumber and tomato.
To extract the saffron's flavour, it must be infused in hot liquid. Put the saffron and vinegar in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 1 - 2 minutes till the liquid is reduced to 2 tbsp. Leave to cool. Put the saffron vinegar into a jam jar, and add the oil, shallot and seasoning.
Cover the jar tightly, and shake it hard. You need to mix the liquid vigorously to combine the oil with the other ingredients, and this is one of the easiest ways to do it. Alternatively, you could beat it well with a small whisk. The dressing is now ready to serve. If left to stand, it will separate, so give it another shake or stir before pouring.