How to CookSalad

Kitchen Rescue: How to Fix Bad Salad Dressing

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A perfect salad dressing is balanced. Salty pulls against sweet; the tang of acid tempers the fattiness of oil. No one flavor should dominate.

Instead, the elements of a dressing should harmonize, like a barbershop quartet lending back-up to your salad. 

Vinaigrette without a Recipe

While there are plenty of excellent recipes out there for salad dressing, it also happens to be one of the easiest things to improvise. Add a pinch of this, a little of that, whisk in some oil, and voilà! You’ve got a vinaigrette. So what happens when you dip a lettuce leaf into your finished dressing, drop it (drippily) into your mouth, and are…disappointed? Maybe you were a bit heavy-handed with the honey. Or the mustard, or the garlic. What happens when your dressing is too salty, too bracingly acidic, too sweet, or too boring? You fix it, that’s what.  

We're here to save your salad, to fix your dressing, all with ingredients you already have on hand. Here's how:

First, a quick general tip: When in doubt, thin it out. I just made up that rhyme off the top of my head, but it holds true for most over-seasoning mistakes. (See advice on how to fix overly salty or spicy dishes here.) Diluting your dressing by adding more of all the flavors—minus the overwhelming one—will help restore balance. (Plus, you'll have extra dressing, which is never a bad thing.)

Too Sweet

Miso Dressing

If your dressing is too sweet, add something savory. Salt, of course, will work, but if you want something a little more interesting, opt for anchoviescapers, soy sauce, or miso, instead. Just make sure you're matching your salty component with the flavor profile of your dish. Nobody wants chunks of capers in their soy-ginger dressing (I don't think, anyway...).


Too Salty

If your dressing is too salty, temper it with something sweet. Sugar works perfectly fine, but your dressing will get some extra vhoom from honey, maple syrup, or pomegranate molasses (careful, this last one is sour, too).


Too Acidic

Sourdough Vinaigrette

If your dressing is too acidic, add something creamy (or creamy-ish) to round it out, just make sure it fits the flavor profile of your dressing. A nut butter like tahini or peanut butter plays well with a soy sauce- or miso-fueled dressing; avocado works well with herbaceous blends; and sourdough bread meshes perfectly with oil and vinegar. Blend in a soft-boiled egg if you're feeling bold.

If you want to keep your dressing on a vinaigrette-like path, try adding a bit of red wine to smooth out the edges. (Apologies on the proliferation of Genius tips here—Kristen knows how we all yearn for a better salad dressing!)


Too One-Note

Herby Salad

If your salad dressing is a little too one-note, a little too blah, a little too Monday lunch when you want Saturday date night, just add some ace-in-the-hole flavor brighteners. Whisk in some chopped fresh herbs and let their brightness punch things up. Add some grated hard cheese, like Manchego or Parmesan, to lend an umami tang. Blend in some fresh horseradish, and prepare to see eyes widen at the first bite. 

Do you have a trick up your sleeve for fixing salad dressings? Tell us in the comments!

Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!
Automagic Holiday Menu Maker!

Tags: Salad Dressing, Sauce, Entertaining, Holiday, Holiday Entertaining, How-To & Diy