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Ashley Christensen helps us turn the stove off
Tasting Table

Vinaigrette is our ultimate crutch during the dead heat of summer.

When made with care, a vinaigrette can enhance a meal; forgivingly, it does so without one lick of the stove's flames.

Ashley Christensen is something of a vinaigrette guru. At her restaurant, Poole's Diner, in Raleigh, North Carolina, she devotes an entire section of the chalkboard menu to dishes bound by these emulsifications. Even something as simple and overlooked as a red-wine vinaigrette, which she uses to bind a Bibb lettuce salad, is given heightened attention; some regulars ask to take bottles of the stuff home.

We'll taste Christensen's vinaigrette firsthand, alongside her other signature refined Southern dishes, when she visits the Tasting Table Test Kitchen for the second installment of the Guest Chef Series on August 28. The four-course dinner will be accompanied by wines from two of Christensen's favorite winemakers, Scholium Project and Hourglass Wines.

But to tide us over (and keep us cool) until then, we nabbed her recipe for watermelon and avocado salad (click here to see), its richness balanced by a sweet-tart Vidalia-onion vinaigrette. 

  • Balloon whisk

    Christensen prefers using fine-gauge balloon whisks when she's emulsifying oil into vinegar. The thin wires help distribute the oil evenly.

  • Edmond Fallot Dijon mustard

    This smooth, punchy mustard is what Christensen credits for teaching her to like mustard. "It's only because of this that I can appreciate something like French's, which I didn't like as a kid."

  • Canola oil

    Christensen uses canola oil for its neutrality, which lets the other flavors in the vinaigrette come to the forefront.

  • Shallots

    "Finely minced shallots add a pop of flavor," she says. For even more of a punch, let the shallots soak for 15 minutes in the vinegar so they absorb even more vinegar bite.

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