How to Make French Vinaigrette

One assumption that I’m going to make about the French is that they’re not afraid to make things au pif, or “by the nose”.

utensils

I don’t know if a precise recipe for sauce vinaigrette actually exists. But if there is, I bet few people follow it very closely. And Romain is no different from his compatriots when it comes to recipes, and rules.

They are both for other people—and don’t apply to him.

adding salt salad basket

Vinaigrette is just one of those things. It’s a few simple ingredients which come together so well, when done right. Anyone can make it: you just pour, stir, marinate, then taste until it’s just right. But the salad dressings in France always taste better to me than elsewhere. So thought I’d follow Romain when he made a true vinaigrette. He was surprised at the idea of measuring anything, so I follow him through the steps, taking a few notes along with way (see Recipe, at the end) and along the way, I learned two French secrets for a great salad dressing.

One is that you must use good Dijon mustard.


Most French people use Maille or Amora, which are easily-available and decent brands. And although the French aren’t known for embracing spicy foods, when it comes to mustard, all bets are off and no one minds using one that’s especially zippy.

mustard

Personally, I’m a fan of Edmond Fallot mustard, which is made from French-grown spices and exactly the right balance of spices for me. My Francophile cousin always brings some back to the states to make a salmon glaze since she says the other mustards just don’t taste the same. Either way, just be sure to find a good Dijon mustard, preferably made in France, and use that.

slicing shallots

The other secret to a great salad dressing is the use of les échalotes. Some Americans aren’t that familiar with shallots, which are the chic cousins of onions. Shallots, when marinated in vinegar, soften and add an attention-grabbing flavor to the dressing because of its slight bite. I wouldn’t dream of making a salad dressing without them. Do try mincing one and adding a bit to your next salad dressing; you’ll be amazed at the difference.

slicing shallots mincing shallots

The first thing Romain does is to mince a small shallot pretty fine. The shallots in America are huge, around the size of a small onion. In France, I prefer the shallots longue, which are narrow and slender. But Romain just uses the regular shallots, so don’t listen to me. Cut it pretty fine. If your knife skills aren’t up to snuff, just run a chef’s knife over the shallot slices a few times after you’ve cut the shallot up and that should do it.

bowl and knife

Next, mix the shallots in a bowl with the vinegar and a decent pincée (pinch) of salt. Sherry or wine vinegar is best, and I’m trying to wean everyone in the world off balsamic vinegar, which is too syrupy for a salad. (You are welcome to post on one of those foodie bulletin boards about how I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to vinegar in salads. But try sherry vinegar before you do. If you don’t like it, then you can post away.)

When I moved here, I bought a bottle of sherry vinegar, and when a friend came over she said, “Oooh! That’s so French!” I didn’t know how French I was until that bottle took up residence on my kitchen shelf, but it does make a difference. Romain uses white wine vinegar that his parents have in a crock in their kitchen. Did you know that vinaigre is actually a liason between two words, vin (wine) and aigre (sour). So theoretically, that sweet balsamic doesn’t cut it in the sour department. And believe me, you don’t want argue with the French about their language.

(Remember what happened last time I tried to make up a word? Yikes…)

Let the shallots sit and “pickle” for a few minutes. This can be done a few hours in advance, and that extra time means they’ll mellow even more. Adding the salt now helps to make sure that it dissolves, so do that. And this step is especially important if using coarse or flaky sea salt, as they often do in France.

salt & pepper

Then you want to add some Dijon mustard. As in, mustard from Dijon, France, since we’re being literal.

maille mustard

The word “Dijon” is tossed around a little too-easily these days, and they may as well write “Dijon-style” on the label to be clear. Easily available in France are aforementioned brands like Maille and Amora. When I moved here I bought a jar of Amora at the supermarket and was on the bus home, a woman looked in my bag and said, “Ooooh. That mustard is very, very good, monsieur!” Needless to say, I was as proud as a peacock that I impressed one of the locals after that. Then she elbowed me aside and got off the bus.

Here, you were thinking, “I thought we were making the salad dressing according to Romain?” Well, we are. But since I’m trying to become French, I trying to do better at offering up my opinions, as well as ignoring some of the rules.

mustard glass pouring olive oil

I’ll stop harping about the mustard, but if you come to France, you can usually find it at Monoprix stores, as well as La Grande Épicerie and G. Detou, in Paris. And it’s not expensive. Although the big jar of Amora mustard I bought was inexpensive, and once empty, was intended to be a measuring cup. And it had goofy, wildly-colored vegetables printed all over it.

olive oil jug potager

So Romain adds in the mustard, and mixes it until smooth. Alors, then it’s time to add the olive oil. Another ‘secret’ of salad dressings, in France and elsewhere, is that some sneaky people don’t use olive oil. Or they mix olive oil with a neutral-tasting oil. The first time I saw someone sneak safflower or colza oil into their dressing here, I freaked and wanted to run over and tell her to stop. I’d never made a vinaigrette with anything but olive oil, but as a Parisienne cook told me recently, “It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I ever used olive oil. It was always butter butter butter in our cooking.”

But olive oil has flooded Paris and has even become trendy. What is this world coming to? Although he’s far from trendy, Romain uses olive oil, which his sister brings back from Spain for him.

Then in goes the olive oil, mixing it with a wooden spoon. And next comes the most important step: la dégustation.

tasting

Because I’ve trained Romain in the hyper-hygienic ways of les Americains, of course, he used a different spoon after each tasting. Really he does.

One thing that we do disagree on is drying the lettuce. I use an Oxo salad spinner, which I think does the best job. But if course, Romain wouldn’t be French if he agreed with me—even when he knows I’m right, so he prefers to give his greens a spin en plein air. Still, for us apartment dwellers, I recommend a salad spinner, unless you like cleaning vegetable washing water off the ceiling.

swinging lettuce swinging & drying

The word “foodie” doesn’t exist in French. We’ve tried thinking up a translation and all we could come up with was gastronome, which isn’t quite right. And I’ve been accused of being a foodie (which I don’t think I am), but I do admit to watching someone drain and toss lettuce for a salad and wanting to ask them if they ever considered drying the lettuce so the dressing would cling to it instead of sliding off?

So I don’t care how you dry your lettuce, whether you use one of those newfangled salad spinners, or go traditionelle and use some gras de coude. Get that water off it.

drying lettuce

Once dry, are you ready to go? Pas du tout! At this point, you can add some chopped fines herbes. Chives, chervil, and flat-leaf parsley are all good. To take it in a different direction, you can use tarragon, but with restraint as it’s quite strong.

adding chives lunch table

When it’s all done, mix the vinaigrette into the salad so the leaves are well-coated. And then, à table everyone.

mixing in olive oil vinaigrette

Eh, voilà, a true French vinaigrette, by a true Frenchman.

French vinaigrette

Makes about 1/4 cup (60 ml), enough for one large green salad

Aside from not using balsamic vinegar in salad dressings, another astuce is to use freshly-ground black pepper, which is best added when tossing the salad with the dressing.

  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3T to 4T (45 ml to 60 ml) olive oil

fresh herbs, if desired

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

2. Mix in the Dijon mustard, then add 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary. Romain said one needs to add beaucoup de mustard, so feel free to add more as well.

If you wish to add fresh herbs, it’s best to chop and mix them in shortly before serving so they retain their flavor.

Storage: This dressing will keep for about eight hours at room temperature. If you want to make it farther in advance, it’s best to add the shallots closer to serving so they don’t lose their verve.

134 comments

  • First, great post David, and wonderful comments. And a few comments. I agree with Veronica on getting an emulsion; add one T of oil, whisk; add next T of oil, whisk, add next . . . Also, I’ve heard, but never have gone to the trouble of doing it myself, that to thoroughly coat the lettuces with the dressing, one should do this by hand. (I actually saw this done 30-odd years ago at Maurice et Charles in San Rafael.) Last, having toured a true Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale facility outside of Bologna (and then paid very dearly for a couple of bottles), I can’t imagine there is a bigger gulf in all of foodom between the real thing and the common-place popular imitators. Using either for a salad would be heresy (for totally different reasons, of course).

  • I’m headed to the store right now for a shallot and a jar of dijon mustard…I’ve been looking for the “perfect” salad dressing for some time and I think I just found it!

  • That explains why I’ve never cared for balsamic in my salads and why my bottle stays on the shelf barely used while the wine vinegars flow nicely into my dressings. I have good (french) taste.
    I had many salads in France and they were all wonderful. When I got home I was inspired to duplicate the dressings I found in France and all the recipes contained shallots. My dressings came alive. I didn’t know the shallots made that big of a difference, but they do!.
    As usual french home-style cooking is simplicity itself using only the best ingredients in proper balance.
    Thanks,
    Renée

  • I always use mustard in my dressing but had never heard about adding shallots. Will try it.

  • I have found Maille readily available at my local super grocery (just outside NYC). For my taste, a 1:3 vinegar:oil ratio is not sharp enough; I like my salad dressing to bite back! I usually make my vinaigrette 1:2, and I typically use a white wine or red wine vinegar. If you can find (and afford) it, a traditionally made, slow-fermented vinegar is VASTLY superior to the rapidly-fermented, inexpensive commercial vinegars.

  • I just saw this post on Facebook and came right over to read it because, as a newbie cook, some of the things seasoned cooks take for granted are the things I need most. Number one: a good vinaigrette recipe. And here it is! But you have so many other things for an artist to drool over, such as that lovely spice container, (oh how I want one!), and the beautiful photograph of the table, covered in a rose-colored cloth. I also like the basket-swinging method for drying the salad. Good exercise as well as good greens! This is such a fun site to read. And in the spirit of American Thanksgiving, David – thank you! I enjoy reading your blog so much :)
    Michaela

  • I’m with nearly all the way but find that it’s much easier and quicker to mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a clean glass jar and then shake it until it’s well mixed and emulsified, then pour over the leaves and toss. But every French cook I’ve ever known mixes it in the bottom of the salad bowl and then adds the lettuce and tosses it. In neither case is an additional bowl needed to mix the vinaigrette.

  • What an excellent tutorial. I adore ‘dijon-style’ vinegarettes.

  • I totally agree with you about balsamic vinegar! It has its place, but not in vinaigrette. I might have to go with Romain on the basket spinner, though. I could definitely see sending the kids out into the yard to spin that around. Any idea where I could find one of those in the States?

  • Lovely post! It made me laugh and almost cry too as I remembered my parents religiously making their vinaigrette for each salad (for the longest time, they disapproved of these containers where you mix the salad dressing ahead of time and then keep it in the fridge, although towards the end of their cooking life, I think they did find them convenient).
    For lettuce, it was always one teaspoon of Amora, one tablespoon of a good red wine vinegar (sometimes tarragon-infused), 2 tablespoons of canola or sunflower oil, one tablespoon of olive oil and a good pinch of salt. For salade frisée, my Dad would first rub the salad bowl with a clove of garlic. On special occasions, he would also rub garlic (never more than one clove) on a toasted half-baguette which he would then cut up and he would sprinkle these croûtons on top of the salad together with sliced medium-soft (still a bit runny) boiled eggs and tiny pieces of crisp bacon. So good!
    I remember shallots as a specially tasty but rather infrequent topping in our household. Salad was never tossed in the kitchen, always at the table, so that it would stay crisp right until the moment we ate it and, in the case of a green salad, it was always eaten after the main course. For the longest time we only had a “panier à salade” (the type that Romain swings in the pictures above) and it wasn’t easy to shake the water off over the sink in the apartment and dry the salad properly! When the spinners came along, my parents were among the first people I know to get one.
    Yes, your post brought back many memories. Thank you! Your pictures are beautiful too and so evocative…

  • Lovely post, David – have to agree with every word of it! I also would like to add one genuine as-related-to-me-by-a-French-housewife tip: if you mix the vinaigrette in the bottom of your salad bowl, you can gently lay your dry salad on top and leave it on the table until ready to serve. The leaves at the bottom barely come in contact with the dressing and so don’t really wilt and the whole thing is ready to be tossed at the table. Also it’s easier to emulsify the vinegar, mustard and oil in a large bowl where you can whip it around without making a mess.

    She also told me that French mamas judge their potential daughters-in-law by how well they can toss a salad, and will overfill the bowl if they don’t like their son’s girlfriend just to make it look like she can’t toss a salad without making a mess. I won’t say whether she overfilled the salad bowl she asked me to toss…but suffice to say I am not married to a Frenchman! ; )

  • In the east of France, they often use Melfor, which I love. http://www.melfor.com/ Have you tried it?

  • “Foodie” – what about “gourmand”?

    A French friend showed me how to make this kind of vinaigrette 20 years ago and it’s nice to see it hasn’t changed and is still as delicious.

    Agree about the vinegar, totally.

  • Those pictures….please tell me they were taken a while ago.
    We have snow here in Calgary. I could not stand it. to hear that you still have lunch outside.

  • Nice vinaigrette, nice story, nice athmosphere. I love your country side posts, you succeed very well to give those impression of sun, fresly cut grass smell and all :) .

    You’re so right about the balsamic vinegar, I love cherry vinegar too. But have you tried cider vinegar ? it brings something different to “white” salads, les chicons for example with apple, brie slices, nuts and grapes. Cider vinegar is not sweet as this kind of molasse often called cheap balsamic vinegar, but it has it’s own way to wake up and to spice up sweet flavors in a bittersweet salad like this.

    your “gras de coudre” made me really perplex (I saw this as a funny challenge), I tried first to find what it was with the meaning, than with the sound. Actually both were needed :). It’s not gras, but huile (french use the word oil because the image needed is oily industrial lubricant, for machinery.). This was not coudre (to sew) either, but you were close : the french word for elbow is coude. So it’s l’huile de coude, and I love the picture of romain using it à tour de bras :D

  • This was one I learned to do years ago…but it’s such a fantastic standby. I quit buying salad dressing when we were Stateside, because this is delicious, easy, and can be made in small enough quantities that even if you pitch the leftovers, you’re out a fraction of a cent for ingredients.

    But that salt and pepper holder. Want. Want. Want.

  • I agree with Sunny. The first thing I thought after “Hooray! I already know how to make a vinaigrette because my friend from Nante taught me” was “I wonder where I can get that salt and pepper cellar….” That dressing is wonderful and I’ve never given it to a person who didn’t ask for the recipe. I love saying “There isn’t one.”

  • So, do you have an opinion about white balsamic vinegar in salads?

    I rather like it, but then I haven’t tried sherry vinegar.

  • Maybe you will think this isn’t french enough but I “windmill” my washed greens in a plastic bag and then put my hand in between the greens and plastic to drain the water in the bottom. Two bags – one in each hand – gives me my workout for the day!

  • No, you’re absolutely right. It’s the sherry vinegar that makes it taste quintessentially French. I’ll use plain red wine vinegar before I’ll use balsamic.

  • I completely agree with you on the balsamic notion – I haven’t had it on a salad in years. Come to think of it, I really haven’t used it for much at all in years…

    And just maybe, by you posting this here, the tides will turn to bring back the wine vinegars. Thanks – I love a true vinaigrette!

  • I adored this post. Especially the non-apt friendly way of drying the lettuce :)

  • I learned to make vinaigrette 40 years ago. The mustard makes all the difference but hadn’t thought about the shallot. Will include that from here on out. Before salad spinners there were dishtowels. Just pile your greens in the center get a grip on the corners and go outside to give it a whirl. Love your book David. I lived in the Bay Area for 30 yrs., how I miss the glorious food.

  • I’ve been making vinaigrette for so many years…and I’m all of 20 xD Yum yum yum a plain green salad with vinaigrette that’s sat long enough for the leaves to soak up vinegar and get all soft is one of my favorite things ever. I agree about no balsamic vinegar! Ugh. Ew. Wine vinegar forever!
    I find olive oil only makes a difference if you get expensive, very green-colored oilve oil, otherwise it just tastes like any other oil.

  • Great post! I love the old school salad “spinner”.
    My belle-mere makes her vinaigrette usually with red wine vinegar, olive or colza oil, salt (lots) and minced garlic. She always mixes the vinaigrette in the bottom of the salad bowl. I love it both ways, with garlic or shallots and with or without dijon.
    Meg in Sussex – The first time I had to make the salade for “la famille” I was critiqued on my vinaigrette, I don’t think they cared so much about the tossing as they did about whether the vinaigrette was too acidic, salty enough etc. But I will be careful the next time I’m with them as I am marrying their French boy next summer and I wouldn’t want to make a mess of the salade! Lol!

  • I’m almost out of my sea salt and pepper from Provence. Do you have any ideas where I can get some similarly flavored salt/pepper in the Bay Area? I don’t have a trip planned for France anytime soon.

    I learned how to make a similar vinaigrette while in Provence and from a French friend. They all make it the same way, “to taste.”

  • aside from sherry vinegar, i really like the o zinfandel vinegar in a vinagrette.

  • and i know you’ll disagree, but i dry my greens in a dish towel. i’ve never taken to those “new fangled” salad spinners.

  • i want that salt cellar! is it as vintage as it looks or can you actually find that style in the stores?

  • I’ve noticed more than once your complaints about recipes that aren’t exact and, to be honest, seeing a recipe for vinaigrette just blew my mind. Why would anybody need it? (I am southern european and I too believe recipes are for the weak, obviously :D).

    So my question is more anthropological or sociological, I guess. Is this an american thing or is it because you are, I believe, trained primarily as a pastry chef? If there’s something really hard to do au pif, that’s pastries.

  • What a great post. I was afraid of making dressings for too long and then one day I just jumped in head first and began making. Haven’t looked back. Your tutorials on basics are so well presented and entertaining to boot. Thanks for sharing your photographic experience as well as pointing to others who share as well.

  • I love the mustard jar !!! Anyway…. do you know you can get Maille mustard in the states ??? It’s shipped from Canada… Excellent post David. I love reading all about food on your blog. Thanks…r

  • My parents used to mix the dressing in the salad bowl and placed the greens on top for the same reason as one of the commentors above stated. The dressing was made using (roughly) half each vinegar and oil. Additional vinegar and oil were placed on the table for everyone to use to adjust the dressing to their taste on the salad. (my Dad liked it sharp!) Do you remember the glass square bottomed V & O bottles with the pointy screw on caps (that looked kind of gummy in some restaurants) that contained vinegar and oil for the table? Those are the ones we used…and I still use!

  • Bravo ! Nice photos, I like them.
    Use ” gras du coude” ant not “coudRe”…hé hé
    I add some soja sauce in my vinaigrette..Chutttt
    Each french has his own way, his proper “touch”, to prepare vinaigrette.
    Et tout “au pif “, as you said !
    Oui !!
    Lôlà

  • great post, David! i totally agree about the balsamic being too strong.. at this point, and I’ve had way too many sticky-sweet balsamic vinaigrettes. ick.

    another bit of salad preaching: so many restaurants serve salads with a million overwrought, overpowering ingredients (spiced nuts, poached fruits, loads of strong cheese, etc). not that i have anything against strong cheese, but salad, herbs and good vinaigrette are just wonderful alone!

  • Did you ever read that great little snippet in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking that adding sugar to a French vinaigrette is ‘heresy’?

    Normally I’m a shameless ideologue when it comes to cooking maxims, but I have to admit, I always find that a vinaigrette does need a touch of sugar to temper some of the vinegar’s acidity (especially if using a white wine vinegar for instance).

    Any thoughts on this David?

  • Love this post! When I was a kid we had one of those “salad spinners” that we swung around and around outside. Good memories….

  • I also remember going to the backyard to spin the salad around as fast as I could. As a kids, I was always amazed it didn’t fall out of the wire mesh basket. Who knew shallots had verve!

  • I think for me, the really young balsamic vinegars are not too sweet, especially if I mix them with another vinegar (like cider or red wine vinegar). I definitely take your point about the sweetness, and I wouldn’t mix balsamic with mustard at all. I’m intrigued by the sherry vinegar, though.

  • I learnt to make a French vinaigrette from a French grandmother when I worked as an au pair. She used vegetable oil, but I prefer the idea of using olive oil.

    I adore the simplicity of salads in France and that no matter where you go they understand the perfection of a good vinaigrette.

  • Amy: I have tried Melfior but it has honey and some other flavorings added, and isn’t quite as acidic as I like for my salads.

    Lôlà and Krysalia: Thanks for the correction!

    claudia: I don’t know if it’s exclusively American. A French friend was telling me that she was explaining to a French friend how to make zucchini (courgette) soup and her friend couldn’t believe that you could make it without a recipe. But it does seem that we Americans like to know exact quantities.

    mk & sunny: If anyone is getting that salt & pepper holder, it’s me!

    Heron: I don’t understand what white balsamic vinegar is. By definition, true balsamic vinegar has to be aged in oak and the brown liquid sold inexpensively usually has caramel-coloring added to make it at least resemble the color of balsamic.

    So I can’t figure out what white balsamic is?

    NickMontreal: Some people add a touch of honey, but I don’t like it. There is a place in Lyon famous for their ‘secret’ salad dressing and I ate there once and immediately we said “soy sauce”, which is what was indeed, the secret.

  • Really nice post – I’ll add to the chorus. The photos were excellent, so charming and warm. I like a spoonful of white miso and brown rice vinegar in my shallot/dijon/olive oil vinaigrette, lots of black pepper, pinch of grey salt. But I’ve got sherry vinegar in the cupboard, I’ll try subbing that for fun, thank you! Also, love that vegetable mustard jar – so great!

  • David, don’t know if you remember, we met in Paris at an absinthe tasting with Louisa and my husband Peter Schaf (the “absintheur”) : I make my own vinaigrette as a good French girl : strong Mustard from Dijon “Maille”, sherry vinegar of course / olive oil and garlic (+ possible addition of chives) because my family is from Provence and that is the only way to go in the South (garlic is preferred to shallots)… And of course, I use a spinner like a large majority of French people (but sometimes, too lazy, I use the already clean “mesclun” salad from the bags… not proud of that but so practical !). I tried to do the vinaigrette in the States at some friends’ : it was a disaster : the so-called Dijon mustard “Poupon” (for information, my American friends, there is no Poupon mustard in France that I know !) is almost sweet, it does not work at all !!! and the vinegar was white and had a terrible taste : it was unedible !!! The quality of the ingredients really makes the success of a good vinaigrette…

  • @michaela Glad to see I’m not the only one just using a towel to dry my greens! I never had the space for big spinner.

  • Great post! Probably my favorite of all your posts. The only instructions I’ve had for
    making vinaigrette is from recipes in cookbooks so it’s wonderful to see how the French make it au pif. Now I know where my grandmother whose family was from the French side of Alsace Lorraine got that term. From now on my dressings will be “au pif”. Central Market in San Antonio, TX sells Maille dijon.

  • I’ve been making vinaigrette French-style for decades without ever thinking to put shallots in it. Thank you, I will definitely try that next time!

    As for measuring, pfft. I can’t imagine measuring the ingredients for vinaigrette (apart from keeping in my head a rough proportion of 1 part vinegar to 4-5 parts oil). But I will admit that I take the time to emulsify it properly by adding the oil in a thin stream while whisking, as if I was making mayonnaise. You end up with a thicker dressing that sticks to the leaves better, so you need less of it.

  • Jenny: Central Market also sells Fallot mustard, and the price is not too bad!

    Sabine: I kind of remember the absinthe tasting ; )

    summer bl4ck: I stand by my salad spinner. I think a towel smushes the greens and doesn’t get the water off as well. It’s worth the space it takes up, imho!

  • Such a classic must have skill this is. But am I the only one who finds it sad that there’s no Dijon mustard being made in Dijon anymore? Maille moved their operation somewhere near Paris. Something I learned from a tour in Dijon years ago is that the vast majority of Dijon mustard made in France is made with Canadian mustard seeds. We ship it to France, they ship it back in a jar. Kinda funny. I second Fallot mustard though. Hands down the best.

  • “I think a towel smushes the greens and doesn’t get the water off as well.” Amen, David. David Tanis’ A Platter of Figs suggests the towel method to avoid bruising the leaves but, like you, I find just the opposite to be true and use the salad spinner instead.

    There are also plenty of other uses for the salad spinner — when things need to go in an ice water bath, for instance — so I find it useful to have around.

  • Hi David. Many times I thought about commenting on something on your blog but never actually took the time. But tonight I just HAVE to tell you: I truly believe there is a better mustard than Dijon. If you lived in Berlin I would just bring a sample over as I always have some on hand but since you don´t you might wanna go here http://www.senfmuehle.de/start/index.html and buy some (I llllooooove the Ur-Rezept and honey-poppyseed). NO, I´m not related to the owners and I do not have any benefit from telling you. It´s just the mustard I grew up with and everyone who tasted it instantly fell in love. Hope you get to try it sometime. Best, Almut.

  • I only started making my own salad dressing a year and a half ago, and it was purely experimental… but I’m confused about vinaigrettes. Namely, I can’t figure out the purpose of the oil. Even using very good oils, I don’t find that it adds much in the way of flavor and I’ve been prefectly happy with the mouthfeel of dressing made without it. And, as someone with a very small apartment, in which I have not yet found a place to store a salad spinner even though I pine after one, the dressing coats slightly damp lettuce better with mustard but no oil.

  • I have been making my own vinaigrette almost daily since I came back from spending a year in France 10 years ago. I can’t imagine using bottled dressing ever again! I keep trying to convert friends but although they all think my salads are great, they seem to have some mental block when it comes to whipping it up themselves, like there’s some difficult trick to it.

    I make it a little differently each time- I vary the vinegars (or sometimes use lemon), and sometimes I like to go a little luxe and use a walnut or hazlenut oil (these really pair well with sherry vinegar). Sometimes garlic, sometimes shallots, sometimes neither… all depends what’s on hand. I never saw anyone use sherry vinegar in France though- perhaps that’s a more recent trend? I definitely agree with those who make it in the bottom of the bowl, both for easier mixing and for less dishes to wash.

  • I loved your post. I am a lover of French dressings, but have never been able to make them quite right. I am sure this will help. What a beautiful table setting!!!

  • Tami: I found that sad, and surprising as well. I guess one can’t expect enough spices to be grown in France to make mustard, but it’s odd that they’re shipped all the way from Canada! That’s another reason I buy Fallot mustard, although the other ones mentioned (Maille and Amora) aren’t bad.

    noëlle & Meg: Normally one would make the dressing in the salad bowl and just toss in there. The post was getting long and I (and Romain) could’ve gone on forever about all the details. So thanks for adding that to the mix..!

    almut: There are great mustard in other places (and that one looks good), but for the true French vinaigrette, call me a xenophobe, but I think Dijon adds that je ne sais quoi that is hard to get from other mustards.

    And to those, like Sabine, who’ve mentioned Grey Poupon: that mustard isn’t made in France. However they do have a shop in Dijon, apparently. One Dijon mustard that some people swear by is one sold by Trader Joe’s which is supposedly made in France.

  • not sure about all the balsamic-dislikers on here. i think it really depends on the salad one is dressing which vinegar to use. for a salad rich in bitter greens, balsamic is a nice counter point.

    i’ve been making my own dressings for years and you’d think i was a magician the way people respond. i even have guests requesting that i make my “special” dressing…which is little more than the dressing you’ve outlined here!

  • great, great post. my husband is constantly trying to perfect his vinaigrette and this will surely become his new favorite reference (which he tends to read 100x over).

  • Beautiful. This confirms how I feel about dressing a salad.

  • Great. Now I want a salad.

  • Hi David, I love your blog and particularly enjoyed reading this post. A true French vinaigrette is one of the first things I learned to make as a student studying abroad in France years ago. The family that I lived with in Tours made this exact vinaigrette every night before dinner. They always kept an empty Bonne Maman jam jar by the sink for salad dressing…they would simply put all the ingredients in the jar and give it a good shake. It was so second nature to them…even the children knew how to make it. They used Sunflower oil, red wine vinegar and Maille Dijon mustard. I follow their technique to this day, right down to the Bonne Maman jar.

  • Oh, l’essoreuse à salade! I used one at my grand-parents’ place every day to dry the salad! We would also use it to store the eggs. Your post does bring good memories…and I can totally relate, I make my vinaigrettes (and most of my cooking) “au pif”.
    As for the mustard, the Grey Poupon you find in the US is owned by Kraft and made in the US and, therefore, adapted to the US market. The Grey Poupon from Canada is made in Canada (where most of the mustard seeds are grown these days). As far as Maille and Amora are concerned, they are now part of Unilever, and since nothing ties the Dijon Mustard to Dijon anymore, it could be well produced anywhere in the world.
    I also like the Moutarde de Meaux (Fallot or Pommery) but not in a vinaigrette!
    Thanks for the post.

  • 60 million french people in France; 60 million recipes for vinaigrette.

  • What a great post, I don’t like balsamic vinegar either in salads. I use red wine, but I will get sherry next time. I have used shallots some, but usually grate the root end of a vidalia onion. I’ll do the shallots again, but I’ll make sure to chop fine. I use the fresh pepper too, in everything, such a difference. I want to get that salad spinner, have to go use my bed bath and beyond coupon. I have been drying the greens gently with paper towels, but it doesn’t work very well

  • Wow, a plug for my favorite mustard by Mr. L! AND, I can get it at Berkeley Bowl any time I want.

    Vive Fallot!

  • How do you ensure that the dressing is emulsified? My husband chokes when pure vinegar hits his throat. (Not a pretty sight and rather stressful.) I usually shake my dressing in a capped bottle for a long period of time and yet my husband will have a choking problem from time to time.

  • Great info on vinaigrette. I get my mustard from the Maille store in Paris on Pl de la Madeleine, where they refill their jars (which I bring in empty) with very spicy dijon mustard. the BEST. Also, I enjoy using the white balsamic vinegar from the Olivers & Co. olive oil place on rue de Buci. It’s fabulous. Not sweet like the red balsamic. But I have never figured out how the dressing on salads in Paris are so “white”? Do they emulsify it all before putting on the salad? Many thanks for the great blog. I think Frenchmen (and women) make the most amazing vinaigrette because it’s in their blood! If only…

  • Oh man, I love a good vinaigrette. This is a helpful post because it reminds me to use shallots in dressing (I already use them in everything else).

  • The shallots in stores here are the size of tulip bulbs. The ones I grew in the garden are the size of large cherry tomatoes and much easier to chop/slice. I did learn that trying to dry a salad with a floursack towel in a small kitchen can be fun. Fun for the spinner-not so much fun for the guests in the same room who get wet. Maybe they’ll get the hint and give me a Oxo salad spinner.

  • Love the article on vinaigrette, I have no doubt that my belgian husband will love it too. He keeps asking me to try and recreate the dressing he remembers having as a child, and I think this may just be it!

  • Great! But… what’s with the olive oil in a (eek!) plastic bottle? Surely that cannot be good.

  • This is appropiate because our local food and wine newspaper pull-out section (Good Living – no link because I couldn’t fin it the website) had an extract from Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller on the best way to dress a salad.
    Anne

  • Jacqueline & Randy: I’m not a fan of emulsified dressings (unless they’re things like Ranch or bleu cheese dressing) but shaking them well and whisking in the oil slowly really helps. Also try sherry vinegar, which can be milder. Don’t know how they get the color so light in the ones you see in cafés, but suspect they’re bottle dressings and they use light-colored oil.

    Caroline: Unfortunately, a lot of things are sold in plastic in Europe (and elsewhere); milk, vinegar, olive oil, and vin en cubi wine in a bag or plastic jug, for those who live in the countryside, which they use to get refilled direct from the producteur. (It’s cheaper than buying wine in bottles, I suppose.) I’ve been trying to find milk in cartons but the only ones I’ve seen are UHT sterilized milk. Even the stuff in the natural food store is in plastic.

    oakjoan: I think anything edible, if it exists, is available at the Berkeley Bowl!

  • i have never seen a salad spinner like that. looks like a great workout to use it.

    what does gras de coude mean literally?

  • eden: It actually means “elbow grease”, although as some French-speaking readers gently pointed out, “huile de coude” (elbow oil) is technically more correct.

    However for some esoteric reason I prefer gras and hope that readers will indulge me for taking liberties with their language…as I am wont to do a bit too-frequently.

  • making things by the nose! that’s really funny!

  • When I first made dinner for my French husband I was making a salad and I asked him if he wanted French salad dressing. He asked, “What’s that?” and I pulled out a bottle of that orange stuff we use in the States. He said, “Why don’t you let me make it?” and I had my first true vinaigrette and was amazed. I make my own now and add some persillade by Ducros which has parsley and dried garlic in it but I now must try your shallot idea. Sometimes simple things are the best.

  • Caroline — lots of things are in plastic for two big reasons — first, trucking is expensive, so not paying a lot of weight for heavy glass bottles is a good thing.

    Second, when you have to carry your groceries (or drag them uphill in a pull-trolley, like I did just this morning) — minimising weight is a necessity!

    Linda, back in the 1970’s, my dad had a partnership with a Swiss company. When they came for dinner, my mom — not knowing any better — served “French” dressing (the orange stuff) with the salad. They *loved* it — and carried home several bottles in their suitcases.

  • great post! i especially like the pictures of romain swinging the lettuce and your comment (Romain wouldn’t be French if he agreed with me). for some reason both together remind me of calvin & hobbes ;-)

  • Great post!!!!!

    I like to start my day with a smile and learn a little something too.

    THANK YOU!!!!

  • … spinning the salad–that photo’s great!

    I can never get over how damn *good* that kind of vinaigrette is. On crisp greens–better than chocolate (and almost as good as espresso).

  • OXO spinner rocks!
    Balsamic in dressing = blecchh
    Shallots do add that je ne sais quoi, but garlic through the garlic press is just that much quicker, and adds that extra bite.
    One French variation no one has mentioned yet is to use good hazelnut oil or walnut oil instead of olive oil. Pricy but divine, especially when it is a simple salade verte, without lots of extraneous toppings (as we Americans eat so often). when using these delicate nut oils, better to take the extra couple miles to mince the shallots.

  • I want a salt and pepper ‘box’ like this, where do I find one? What’s the real name for it? Great post.

    Thanks!

  • After cooking for 6 people for 30+ years – I decided that I was now on strike. But your wonderfully inspiring posts have made me reconsider this decision. I just have to try some of these recipes, particularly this vinaigrette.

    I look forward to both your recipes and fun observations and photos.

    Thank you!!!

  • I could hardly concentrate on your lovely entry because I was so enchanted by the salt and pepper container. I must have one and will not rest until I find it. I dry the greens and use Maille mustard for salad dressing and white wine vinegar but don’t always bother with chopping shallots. Obviously, that will end now. Happy Thanksgiving, David!

  • I love your write up and description of making the vinaigrette as much as I do the recipe :)

  • It’s always interesting for me to learn the proper way complete a recipe or to learn the nuances that make or break a recipe. I knew some of the steps but didn’t know about the oils and vinegar. I’ll have to try my hand at making vinaigrette the proper way.

  • I am from Jerez de la Frontera where sherry and sherry wine a by-product of sherry up until recently, is carefully made in a solera sisteme. If you don’t know our town i highly recommend a visit.

    Sherry vinager is wonderfull in homemade mayonaise, gazpacho and many other recipes…

    Would be delighted to help with information and contacts about bodegas to visit, olive oil mills (almazaras), nearby in the provinces of seville, cordoba.. as a pastry chef you would love to go to the 200 year old convents where you can taste the delicate cakes made by clauture nuns… buying them is all an experience as you cannot see the nuns and you have to place you order speaking through a closed window that rotates you put your money you turn it they put the cakes and turn it again and you get your order. not the way around, very clever our nuns!

    also love that the aceite de oliva is also from my region Andalucia, we are number one producers of extra virgin olive oil in the world, we sell most of it in bulk to the italians who bottle is and label it as italian for the rest of the world to taste, they know what’s best!!!

    ryan air flies from paris to jerez! this is my first entry but have been following for a year

  • 1. If possible, please send me the wooden salt/pepper container, wooden cutting board and wooden fork/spoon as soon as possible.
    2. To Chef Qui Alinat who commented: “60 million french people in France; 60 million recipes for vinaigrette.” Indeed! Which is what makes dedicating one post to one way all the more fun. It brings out great recommendations.
    3. I, too, would swoon if these pics are from present day, and I’m in Colorado, not Calgary.
    Thanks for the sherry vinegar inspiration.

  • What a great post, David. (Not least because your ideas on vinaigrette line up pretty closely with my own, heh.)

    I can’t help thinking of reading Madeleine Kamman’s The Making of A Cook, years ago, and seeing her comment with gentle asperity on the use of a wire basket for drying salad greens. She called it takin your salad for “a ride in the jail-wagon.” Mme Kamman must have been more of a rolling-your-greens-in-a-towel kind of girl.

    Off to buy some little pink échalottes françaises!

  • In the absence of a salad spinner (new or old), spin the lettuce in a (clean – please!) pillowcase. Can be done in an apartment if the ceiling is tall enough, as the pillowcase will catch the water. Well… some of it, at least. It’s a handy little trick…

  • absolutely wonderful post, David.

    I used to live in Paris. And this post was so right on, such a walk down memory lane…

    In my opinion, shallots are so underutilized in America….they are little gems – bringing to life to so many dishes. I rarely use onions anymore.

    I, too, would love to know where you got your sel et poivre holder.

    Stephanie

  • Nice photos! I wish I can make a vinaigrette perfectly. Every time I make some, it always end up a disaster. Not the way I like it, it does not like taste like vinaigrette at all.

  • Oh that wire basket made me laugh! My brother and I used to dry greens the same way when we were kids (before salad spinners were in vogue, ahem). We used to compete over who got the privilege, even.

    Never measure, swear by good mustard, like lots of vinegar, and just enough olive oil to bind (acid freak here). I also love my teeny tiny whisk, which sounds obnoxious and precious, but is the perfect tool for the job.

    I don’t stop at salads, either. It’s great on asparagus, leeks, broccoli. I will eat plenty of whatever vegetable is wearing this dressing.

    And from now on, I’m going to be thinking of Romain swinging around his salad greens! Love it.

  • gasparini: Although the idea of coming to Jerez sounds amazing, the idea of flying on Ryan Air again puts a damper on things. I’m still waiting on a refund for a ticket that they doubled billed me for, which was about three years ago! The sherry vinegar and the Italian, um…I mean, Spanish olive oil does sound tempting, though : 0

    And to those who want the salt & pepper caddy, you have to spend a few years combing French antique and flea markets to find one like it, I’m afraid!

  • Awesome lesson in making French vinaigrette. Thanks so much!

  • Ok I agree ryan air is tough. Vueling.com has an offer in January 30 euros each way into Seville, one hour away from Jerez. ;o)

    http://www.oliveoilfromspain.com.au
    can’t believe I’ve been noticed!!

  • Loving that salt and pepper cellar.

  • At my grandparents’ lunch table in Paris we always had salad at the end of the meal. The lettuce would be washed and then drained by shaking the panier a salad out the window and then hanging it from the faucet to drain over the sink all morning, giving it another shake now and then. My grandmother would mix a simple oil and vinegar dressing in the big glass saladier, add the leaves and toss, and then serve the lightly dressed greens in individual bowls. Her vinaigrette lacked the je-ne-sais-quoi added by shallots and mustard but helped me develop a taste for simple home-made dressing–I never cared for the bottled stuff.

    Over the years I’ve developed a few favorite variations. For the tried-and-true with Dijon mustard I often mix it in advance and omit the shallots (which can taste nasty if not chopped fine enough), instead marinating a crushed garlic clove in the dressing and removing it before tossing the salad. I sometimes use a few drops of “balsalmic” vinegar (not the genuine dab-behind-the-ears-pricey stuff) to flavor the mix depending on the salad — it goes well drizzled over good summer tomatoes. People love a version made with walnut oil and sherry vinegar, nice on a salad with walnuts and crumbled chevre or blue cheese tossed with the greens.

    Vinegar certainly does vary. If the dressing tastes too acidic I sometimes thin it with wine. At La Bonne Soupe, which makes the most scrumptious vinaigrette I’ve tasted in NYC (I ask for extra bread to mop up every drop) they use chicken stock in their dressing! At least according to the ingredients list on the bottle during the brief time they were selling it to take home.

    Whatever white balsalmic vinegar is, I find it too sweet to use in a conventional vinaigrette. But I buy it at Trader Joe’s to use in a delightful salad of shredded lacinato kale, currants, pine nuts, and grated pecorino cheese.

    Dijon mustard bought in the US never tastes snappy enough to me. I’ve heard that the formula is altered for export, which sounds credible. I’ve also heard that mustard simply loses its zip over time, so I try to bring a jar home as often as possible–it’s cheap enough that I don’t feel (too) guilty dumping the dregs of the old jar. I’ll have to interrupt my systematic acquisition of Amora goblets to look for the Fallot brand. Also for a version of that adorable salt and pepper box. Now there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity: find an artisan to make a bunch to sell to drooling David Lebovitz readers!

  • Wow, I didn’t know you could make such a long post about vinaigrette! That amazes me… For a while, at my parent’s house i was in charge of the vinaigrette, and I agree with your post.

  • Thanks so much for the tips. I am looking forward to having this along with my quiche. I noticed your photo of your salt and pepper. Where do you find something like this to hold the salt and pepper? Also did you use gray sea salt? Thanks for the tips. JC

  • Happy Thanksgiving, David!