Nowadays, a flavorful vinaigrette is just as likely to star in the presentation of a main dish as it is an outstanding salad concept.

Nowadays, a flavorful vinaigrette is just as likely to star in the presentation of a main dish as it is an outstanding salad concept.

Some chefs choose to serve components of the vinaigrette — oil and vinegar — separately on the plate. In Mediterranean cuisines, it's a particularly popular method for presenting condiments. In fact, one of my favorite appetizers within this genre was perfected by Napa Valley chef Michael Chiarello and is, quite simply, puddles of balsamic-vinegar reduction and basil oil served with slices of fresh mozzarella and summer tomatoes.

In classic French cuisine, there was a time when the appearance of even a trace amount of fat on the surface of a sauce meant the sauce had broken, the result of a careless or inept chef. However, these days, our views of what makes a sauce a sauce have changed.

Thanks to a merging of cuisines — and because sometimes diners are simply looking for healthier options to rich sauces — we now have all sorts of creative and tasty saucing alternatives. From salsas to vinaigrettes, these are wonderful and zesty counterpoints to a lovely smoked chop or grilled breast of chicken.

Within the realm of vinaigrettes-as-sauces, chefs have taken to pureeing vinaigrettes with other ingredients, such as fresh tomatoes or fire-roasted peppers, to stabilize the sauce and smooth out the flavors. The hot tomato vinaigrette recipe that follows is an excellent example of just that style.

Wonderful with grilled, poached or steamed fish or shellfish, it uses hot tomato coulis (chopped tomatoes lightly sauteed in oil) as the emulsifier and is given extra flavor and complexity with a reduced broth. The vinaigrette is then combined with what is known as a "beurre fondu," — emulsified butter — for a rich and slightly thickened experience.

So the next time you reach for that bottle of homemade vinaigrette, contemplate its potential for enhancing dishes beyond your tossed, green salad. It's a fabulous way to bring a little more excitement into the kitchen.

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit" and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.