Let's play a little word association game.
Lemme guess, you said salad, right?* That's usually how I think too, and for good reason—salad and vinaigrette are as natural a pair as ham and cheese, egg and cheese, and bacon and eggs (if you think eggs and ketchup belong on that list, close your browser tab now, I'm sending you to your room for a time out...come back when you've thought this over a little more carefully and we'll talk).
You didn't? Good for you, you're officially part of the .0000000000001% of the population that doesn't make that association, as determined by the National Lexicographical Society of Salads Not Including Egg, Chicken, or Tuna (NLSSNIECT).
But it helps to remember that a vinaigrette is more than just a dressing for vegetables, it's a sauce in its own right. And given how easy vinaigrettes are to make, they should be used more often by home cooks looking for a way to add flavor and moisture to a dish without the work so many other sauces require.
After all, what's chimichurri but a garlic- and herb-packed vinaigrette? And we eat that on steak, not salad. This simple vinaigrette could go with practically anything, from a mayo-free chicken salad to shredded, slow-cooked pork shoulder (barbecue sauce isn't the only thing you can put on stuff like that). And this soy vinaigrette would work wonderfully with cold poached chicken or salmon.
Speaking of salmon, fish, like the whole branzino that I roasted here, is great when paired with a vinaigrette. It's just begging for those light, bright flavors...it's like a squeeze of lemon juice with a lot more dimension. To make it, I used the same tangerine and fennel vinaigrette that I also recently tossed on a simple fennel and radicchio salad. Following my basic instructions for roasting whole fish, I stuffed these branzini with aromatics—like slices of tangerine and fresh fennel fronds—that dovetail with the wintery flavors in the sauce.
It's a simple yet elegant dinner that comes together in very little time (shave off even more minutes by mastering the art of filleting whole cooked fish...it's easy and looks a heck of a lot better than hacking at those beautiful fish with a fork).
If you want, you can serve it with a simple salad tossed in more of the vinaigrette—because what's a vinaigrette without some salad, right?