Vinaigrette or Marinade?

When is a vinaigrette a marinade and when is a marinade a vinaigrette?  And are they interchangeable?  The answer is yes AND no.  The Culinary Institute of America describes a vinaigrette as a ratio of “1-part vinegar to 3-parts oil by volume.“

Marinades can be described with less technicality by Cooks Info, as, “a medium, often wet, used to prepare meat or vegetables for cooking, usually by grilling on a barbecue. Using a Marinade is called "Marinating."

Are they always interchangeable?  Sometimes.  My limited summer home kitchen left me no choice but to experiment.  I encourage you to experiment on your own, knowing that a high acid dressing isn’t always a friend of raw proteins, and can make meats tough.  So proceed with caution when using a vinaigrette as a marinade that’s has great tangy-vinegary flavors that would complement bland salad ingredients.  It may not be your best bet for marinating steak.

In the following instance I used a vinaigrette to both marinate steak and dress an accompanying salad.  Interestingly enough, when grilled, the marinated steak took on some of the heat from the crushed red pepper flakes and lent a hint of garlicky flavor to the meat.  As a vinaigrette it was bright and herby with a distinct Dijon mustard tang.  Overall, in this instance, they worked in great compliment to each other.

Here is a recipe from our archives:

Marinated Hangar Steak with White Bean, Wheat Berry and Herb Salad

Preparation time:  35 minutes

Marinating time:  4 hours or overnight

Yield:  4 servings


Mustard Vinaigrette:

Preparation time:  10 minutes

Yield:  about 1 ¼ cups


1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

1 Tablespoon fish sauce

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

¼ small onion, roughly chopped

6 Thai basil leaves, torn in small pieces

20 turns of a pepper mill

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup peanut oil


Puree the mustard, garlic, fish sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, onion, Thai basil, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes with an immersion blender in a small bowl until thoroughly blended, about 30 seconds. 

Add the peanut oil, in a slow steady stream with the blender running until fully incorporated and thick, about 30 additional seconds. Set aside.


Marinated Hangar Steak:

Preparation time:  5 minutes

Marinating time:  4 hours to overnight

Cooking time:  8-10 minutes

Resting time:  3 minutes

Yield:  4 servings


2 pounds hangar steak, trimmed

¼ cup Mustard Vinaigrette


Place steak and vinaigrette in a re-sealable plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag.  Refrigerate for 4 hours, or overnight.  Remove steak from marinade and discard marinade.

Heat grill to high heat.  Grill steak over direct heat, turning once until medium rare, about 4 minutes per side.  Transfer steak to a warm plate, cover loosely with foil, and let rest 3 minutes before slicing and serving.


White Bean and Wheat Berry Salad

Preparation time:  20 minutes

Yield:  4 servings


1 cup white beans, cooked, cooled

1 cup wheat berries, cooked, cooled

¼ head radicchio, roughly chopped

¼ bulb fennel, shaved

½ cup fennel fronds

10 olive cured olives, roughly chopped

2 scallions, very thinly sliced

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

6 basil leaves, minced

10 oregano leaves, minced

10 marjoram leaves, minced

10 parsley leaves, minced

¼ cup Mustard Vinaigrette


Toss beans, wheat berries, radicchio, fennel, fennel fronds, olives, scallions, Parmesan cheese, basil, oregano, marjoram and parsley in a large bowl until thoroughly blended.  Add dressing and toss to coat evenly.  Serve immediately.