1 part Dijon mustard
2 parts vinegar
4 parts olive oil
Every French person living in the United States that I’ve met has a horror story about the first time they ordered so-called “French dressing” in a restaurant. Throughout France salad is usually eaten with a zesty golden-colored mustard vinaigrette. So, when dining out for the first time abroad and faced with a barrage of exotic salad dressing choices, most of us opt for the one that sounds the most familiar: “French”. However, when the waiter returns with the salad it is covered with a strange and unexpected garish orangish-red sauce, it is a case of total culture shock. Some of us try to return it to the kitchen saying politely, “there has been a mistake.” Others courageously taste the sauce only to be further distressed: their lettuce is not only covered in a dressing never before seen in France but it is also sweet!
In France, salad “dressing” is usually made at home out of oil, vinegar, salt and mustard. It is probably one of the most controversial and hotly debated recipes. The quantities vary according to the personal taste of the chef and everyone has their own signature technique. Over the years we have forged our own style with a nice mayonnaise-like texture. The key isn’t so much the quantities of each ingredient but rather the order in which you mix them. Most French families make the dressing in the salad bowl and then place the lettuce on top. Then, the salad is tossed just before serving so that the lettuce is evenly coated but not “cooked” by the vinegar. We prefer to make it in a jar and let everyone serve themselves so that any leftover lettuce can be saved.
DIRECTIONS: Adjust the quantities of the ingredients to your liking (but don’t skimp on the mustard because it is important for the texture). Also, be sure to use real French mustard. Grey Poupon is not real French mustard but it is alright if you are in an extremely desperate pinch. Brands like Maille or Trader Joe’s are much more authentic. Our favorite is Amora, but we haven’t been able to find it outside of France. Next be sure to mix the ingredients in the following order: 1) Use a trick from tata (auntie) Nane which is to dissolve the salt in the vinegar; 2) Tata Josette’s trick is to add the mustard after the vinegar to get the vinegar and oil to blend well and yield a mayonnaise-like consistency; 3) pour in the oil in a slow consistent stream while whisking the mustard-vinegar mixture with a fork and continue to mix until the oil is fully integrated to the sauce. Voila!
VARIATIONS: Play a bit with the ingredients for example: try it without the mustard; or use a vinegar infused with walnut or tarragon instead of the usual plain wine, sherry or apple cider vinegar; better yet, use a good quality nut oil such as walnut or extremely high quality sunflower oil; another option is to add minced shallot or crushed garlic (but be sure to let them macerate in the vinegar for a while before you add the mustard and oil so they are softer in texture and taste; finally you can add some fresh herbs like chives, parsley or tarragon. Some people even add a bit of water to “lighten” up the dressing, but we don’t particularly agree with that practice.