How to Adjust Your Vinaigrette to Feature Winter Citrus

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Winter citrus like tangerine opens up a world of vinaigrette flavor possibilities. [Photograph: Daniel Gritzer]

Winter can be tough as far as produce goes—this is the season when options dwindle to root vegetables, squashes, apples, and a handful of other things that keep well in cold storage. Except for citrus. When stalks of asparagus are still months from poking their slender heads through sandy ground and tomatoes are nothing more than dried seeds on a farmer's shelf, citrus is resplendent. Oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes are of course all beautiful, but the best part of winter may be all the other varieties of citrus, like clementines, tangerines, and kumquats, that crowd market shelves.

There's so much to do with them all, but one of the easiest is to make a vinaigrette. Kenji recently shared his basic salad dressing recipe, which uses a classic three-to-one ratio of oil to vinegar along with a bit of mustard, garlic, and minced shallot. It lends itself perfectly to variations, like the tangerine vinaigrette here, which I whipped up recently to take advantage of all the great citrus available.

It's such a simple thing that I could end the story here and tell you to click above or below to jump straight to the recipe itself, but I think it's worth taking a quick look at how I tweaked the basic recipe to make it work for my tangerine version, since that can help you come up with successful variations of your own.

In the simple vinaigrette, we combine 3/4 cup of olive oil with three tablespoons of white wine vinegar and one tablespoon of water. The vinegar and water together combine to make four tablespoons, which is 1/4 cup (that's what gives you the 3:1 ratio). Why the one tablespoon of water? It's a matter of personal taste, but a full four tablespoons of vinegar would have made the vinaigrette very tart; the water helps round out what might otherwise be an overly aggressive acidity (if you love extremely tart foods, you might want to bump the vinegar up to four full tablespoons and cut the water).

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When I made my tangerine vinaigrette, I also used 3/4 cup olive oil. But for my acid component, instead of vinegar, I used two tablespoons of tangerine juice and two tablespoons of lemon juice—no water. That way I also have four tablespoons of the "vinegar" component of my dressing, giving me the same 3:1 ratio. To get the right balance of flavor, though, I had to get rid of the water and supplement the tangerine juice with much more tart lemon juice. The reason is because tangerine juice, while slightly tart, isn't nearly tart enough to stand in for vinegar on its own. I needed all the extra acidity I could get.

I also cut the amount of mustard in my version in half (1 teaspoon instead of the 2 used in the simple vinaigrette), and omitted the garlic. Why? The tangerine's flavor, when mixed with so much oil, is fairly mild, and a hefty dose of potent mustard and garlic would have been enough to completely overpower it. I needed to tone those flavors down to let the tangerine shine through.

I boosted the tangerine flavor with finely grated zest, and added some complexity with ground fennel seed. Then I tossed it on a very simple salad of thinly shaved fennel and radicchio, two great winter options in their own right.

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That's the beauty of understanding the basic ratio of a vinaigrette, and having an excellent all-purpose technique. With those tools in your pocket, it's easy to use a different oil or a different acid and, with just a little bit of tweaking, come up with a whole new recipe. The only limit is your imagination.