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I was reading Essentials of classic Italian cooking by Marcella Hazan where I noticed she first pours a lot of olive oil to "protect the salad" from the vinegar as it prevents the acid from doing its "cooking". So, that is one unproven benefit I know of.

I am also interested in taste differences. If it tastes about the same I would much rather not spend all that time making a vinaigrette. The consistency of the liquid would obviously be different - does that give a different mouthfeel perhaps?

Any experienced salad makers here with some insights?

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The OO first is a dumb thing to do. You don't want to protect leaves from vinegar, you want to protect them from oil. See seriouseats.com/2010/04/… The "cooking" the vinegar does affects proteins, not cellulose. Oil wilts plants matter. –  rumtscho Apr 27 '12 at 18:13
    
Damn lore! Thanks, just the type of stuff I'd like to know! –  cptloop Apr 27 '12 at 23:36

3 Answers 3

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A vinaigrette is not a stable emulsion so it will eventually separate- however it will stay together long enough for the salad to be immediately served and eaten.
I find that pouring the oil and acid separately creates a salad with a mouthful of olive oil coating the leaves and pool of vinegar at the bottom of the plate.

It's true that the acid in a vinaigrette will eventually wilt the salad but that is why it should be added at the last minute or even after the salads have been portioned.

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So, first of all, pouring oil, then vinegar, directly onto the salad and tossing is a perfectly good way to dress a salad, especially if it's high quality oil and vinegar and that's all you're using. For some salads, like caprese, there's really no other way to dress them.

In addition to the problem Sobachatina mentions (that it's hard to get even distribution of oil and vinegar when applied separately), there's another reason to mix a vinaigrette before pouring: you may have additional ingredients in addition to oil and vinegar. Further, these ingredients might be added in such small quantities as to be impossible to add to the salad evenly on their own.

For example, a vinaigrette might include 1/2 tsp of mustard, salt and/or sugar. It might contain 1 tsp of pressed garlic or finely minced shallot It might also have citrus zest or dried herbs or spices which need to marinate in the dressing for a while. Or other ingredients. You get the idea. These need to be mixed in the base of vinegar and oil so that they can spread over the salad evenly, instead of ending up in one clump somewhere.

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I have a tip for both taste and ease. The others are right, if O&V is added separately it is not as good.

Take your main bowl where you’re mixing the salad. Add your vinegar first and then spices. The vinegar penetrates the spices faster without the oil. Then start with a 1/2 tsp. of mustard, my fav Grey Poupon. (It does make a difference). I am not fond of mustard in cooking, but you won't be able to tell. At this point depending on my mood I will add a little sugar or honey. Wisk together breaking up the mustard, then start adding your oil. I don't use a lot of oil; it all comes down to personal preference. Once done, taste. Is it good? If it starts to separate, add another 1/2 tsp. of mustard or adjust your seasonings. Then proceed with the salad. Don't put the lettuce in first. Put in your Tomatoes, cucs, celery or whatever you like. Then put the lettuce on top. Now you can store the salad in the fridge for up to 2 hours until you’re ready. I have pushed it longer. Then toss well, sides to middle. Not just a few times, till you see everything covered. Now try the most amazing salad you ever made.

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