Oil and Vinegar

Oil and Vinegar


Oils vary more in flavor than you might imagine, especially if you choose those that are minimally processed or unfiltered, which I recommend. Start with small bottles: You’ll get to know their different characteristics without too big an investment.

Olive Oil High in healthy fats, delicious, wonderfully assertive flavor; indispensable for cooking and drizzling. Buy only extra virgin; other kinds are too bland.

Vegetable Oils When a recipe calls for vegetable oil, a neutral or light flavor is the goal, for times you want other ingredients to shine through. But try to avoid buying blends labeled vegetable oil. Choose high-quality individual oils like grapeseed, peanut (which is not from tree nuts), sunflower, or safflower, preferably cold pressed or minimally processed. (If they’re a little cloudy, that usually means they’re unfiltered.) These are good for pan- and deep frying too.

Sesame Oil Be sure to buy the dark kind, made from toasted sesame seeds. Strong in both flavor and aroma; a must for finishing many stir fries and other Asian dishes. In dressings I usually combine just a little bit with peanut or a neutral oil like grapeseed. Generally not used for high-heat cooking.

Nut Oil Almond, hazelnut, walnut, and other nut oils are distinctive and delicious in dressings. You’ll usually use them in small amounts, combined with vegetable or olive oil, because they can be overwhelming (and they’re expensive). Generally not used for cooking.


Vinegars vary in acidity, a percentage indicated on the label. Sherry vinegar (the strongest) has a little more than twice as much acidity as rice vinegar and citrus juices. Red and white wine, balsamic, and cider vinegars fall somewhere in between.

Red Wine Vinegar Classic and when of high quality quite delicious.

White Wine Vinegar Lighter, less strong than red (just like the wines), equally useful.

Balsamic Vinegar Deeply colored, sweet, this has become an American standard. The best is aged (and expensive) and is labeled aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena.

Sherry Vinegar My favorite vinegar, but not always easy to find. Look for the word Jerez on the label; it should come from that region in Spain.

Rice Vinegar Mild, light-colored Asian-style vinegar good for cooking, dressings, and sauces.

Cider Vinegar Made from apple cider or juice. Fruity and—at its best complex.

White Vinegar An industrial product, best used for pickling or when you want acidity with no flavor. Great for cleaning too.

The Components of Dressing—and More

Oil and vinegar are the most versatile ingredients in your pantry. Oil is crucial for its richness and ability to amplify and distribute flavors; vinegar is a mild acid made by fermenting fruit, seeds, or grains. We immediately associate these ingredients with salad, but they’re used for both cooking and seasoning a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes.

Both oil and vinegar should be kept in airtight glass or ceramic bottles in a cabinet or other cool, dark place. I store all the oil except what I’m going to use within a few days in the refrigerator—it turns cloudy when chilled but goes back to its normal color at room temperature. Always smell and taste oil before using it—a sour, musty flavor means that it’s rancid and should be thrown out. Vinegar will get cloudy as it ages and develop a thick sediment. This won’t hurt you but indicates that the flavor is probably past its prime—time for a new bottle.

Vinaigrette—my go-to salad dressing—is, at its most basic, a sauce made by combining fat (usually oil), acid (usually vinegar), and flavoring. This is the classic dressing for a salad of raw greens, also fantastic served on cooked vegetables, fish, poultry, or meat.

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