Vinaigrettes bring zoom to the kitchen

In classic French cuisine, there was a time when even a trace amount of fat on a sauce's surface meant it had broken: the result of a careless or inept chef.

However, these days, our views of what makes a sauce a sauce have changed. Thanks to a merging of cuisines — and because some diners simply are looking for healthful options to rich sauces — we now have all sorts of creative and tasty saucing alternatives and zesty counterpoints to a lovely smoked chop or grilled chicken breast.

And so, a new genre of sauces has emerged. Unannounced and unheralded by some catchy name, they've so far been categorized into separate realms as chutneys, salsas, vinaigrettes, pestos, stock and vinegar reductions, juices and infused oils. Compared with traditional mainstays such as the rich and regal browns and whites, the hollandaise or bearnaise, this new group brings a greater range of color, flavor and texture to the table.

And when viewed in this new light — as one dynamic family — they represent the shift in American food philosophies toward healthier, fresher and more eclectic fare.

One of my favorites in this realm is the vinaigrette. In one approach, components of the vinaigrette — oil and vinegar — are served separately on the plate, particularly popular as a mode for conveying the condiments of Mediterranean cuisines. Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello perfected a beloved appetizer of this genre: quite simply, puddles of balsamic-vinegar reduction and basil oil served with slices of fresh mozzarella and summer tomatoes.

Another method is pureeing vinaigrettes with other ingredients, such as fresh tomatoes or fire-roasted peppers, which stabilizes the sauce and smooths out the flavor. This Hot Tomato Vinaigrette recipe is an excellent example of just that style. It's a fabulous way to bring a little more zoom into the kitchen.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at

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