Salad Dressings: French Vinaigrette


Salad Dressings: French Vinaigrette


This is one of three easy salad dressings I’m posting in the next few days that are, in my view, fresher, tastier, and certainly cheaper, than commercial bottled dressings. They are quickly made at home and are useful for simple salads of greens and maybe some tomato and a little julienned onion. (See the index in this blog for a number of other salad dressings and specialty salads.)


Vinaigrette, as salad dressing is termed in culinary French, is the diminutive of “vinaigre,” the French word for vinegar. “Vinaigre,” in turn, means soured wine, “vin” for wine and “aigre” for sour. Vinegar was traditionally produced by letting wine go the next step of fermentation, oxidizing its ethyl alcohol into acetic acid, which gives vinegar its sharpness. Virtually anything containing sugar that can be fermented into alcohol can be further fermented into vinegar: apple juice into cider vinegar, malted barley into malt vinegar, pineapple, rice, and sugar cane into their various international vinegars. Vinegar of any source, though particularly that from fermented grain, can be distilled to make purer, if less tasty, white vinegar.


Classically, a vinaigrette contains vinegar plus olive or other oil, salt and seasonings. But alternative acidic liquids, like lemon juice in the Mediterranean and lime juice in Thailand and Vietnam, can replace the vinegar in salad dressing and still, arguably, be called a “vinaigrette.” The traditional French proportion of oil to vinegar in vinaigrette is as much as 3 to 1. However, for lightness I generally use less oil than vinegar, and dilute the vinegar with water.


In France, salad – which traditionally comes after the main course and before the cheese and the dessert courses – is generally not accompanied by wine. The theory is that vinegar’s acidity spoils the taste of the wine, making it seem sour. But don’t feel sorry for deprived French diners. They’ve already had wine or wines with their starter and main courses and will have another wine with the cheese and often a dessert wine with the final sweet.


This is a typical dressing in restaurants in eastern France and nearby French-speaking Switzerland, where it’s used to dress simple green salads that accompany a dinner. Mustard, particularly Dijon mustard, is a standard ingredient in salad dressings there, as it is in making mayonnaise.


The recipe make enough dressing for six or more servings of salad. Extra stays reasonably fresh for a few days in the refrigerator.


1 clove fresh garlic

1/4 cup white wine vinegar or white distilled vinegar

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

1-1/2 teaspoons Dijon or brown mustard

1 teaspoon sea salt or table salt

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil


Peel and crush the garlic clove with the side of the knife. Using  the back of a spoon or fork, rub the mixing bowl thoroughly with the garlic to leave its flavor in the bowl. Add the vinegar and let the garlic flavor it for a few minutes, then discard the garlic solids. Add the remaining ingredients except the oil to the bowl and mix until smooth with a fork or small whisk. Taste for salt (it should be a little salty to spread out on the salad vegetables). Add a little if needed. Using the fork or small whisk, thoroughly mix in the oil.


The vinaigrette can be used now or in the next few hours. If holding for longer, refrigerate it.




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