Weekend cooking: Making a proper vinaigrette

While most Americans tend to purchase salad dressing from the store, in France the thought of buying salad dressing is a foreign concept.

Store-bought dressing exists (or at least, one option is there), but making it at home is pretty much the standard in French households. In my years of living in France, I have yet to see anyone pull a bottle of salad dressing out of their fridge because they always make it themselves.

The beauty of a vinaigrette is that it’s easy to make in a matter of seconds. The video below is one variety, but I rarely add shallots myself to the mixture (NOTE FROM JOHN: I do, they’re yummy). I like them, but generally not in the dressing. While looking around for an easy to follow recipe, I noticed that some people give hard rules about the proportions of oil to vinegar. For me, there is no correct proportion because it’s what you like.

I like more vinegar, though my wife Jojo prefers less. (She actually prefers lemon juice over vinegar, sort of like Pepin’s wife.) I add the oil in the bottom of my salad bowl, add the sea salt, a few splashes of red wine vinegar and then the Dijon mustard and mix. It’s that simple. You just have to add the salad on top and toss. What could be easier?

Our friend David Lebovitz has his own preferred recipe — David does use shallots, and let’s them steep in the vinegar a bit before mixing the rest of the dressing.

Once you have this simple dressing, you can use it for green salads, poached leeks, cold roasted vegetable salads, you name it. It goes with everything. This is one area where I do find that a higher quality olive oil makes sense. After doing an oil tasting at the Nyons (France) coop, I’m a firm believer in organic oil, when I can afford it. It’s not cheap but it makes all the difference.

An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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  • If you have Meyer lemons! They are fabulous.

  • Zorba

    Sounds pretty much like the Greek vinaigrette I make, except I chop up some garlic (not shallots) and let that steep in the vinegar for awhile, and I add some Greek oregano.
    Sometimes I use vinegar, sometimes lemon juice. Depends upon the mood I’m in. Both are good.

  • I must admit, I just buy dressing usually. It’s a bit like mayonnaise. Yes, I could probably make it myself without too much effort but I won’t. (Yet I still make my own bread unless I’m in a hurry…I don’t claim to be consistent.)

  • Patricia Presti

    I found the best simple lemon recipe from Italy:
    Lightly salt the lettuce, coat each leaf with olive oil…add few drops fresh Lemon Juice. Toss!

  • Same recipe, but sometimes I vary the vinegar, using various Balsamic. Chopped fresh dill and Penzey’s Tellicherry pepper.

  • try a dash of curry powder…

  • It’s also fun to experiment – add OJ, pomegranate juice, beet juice, a dash of smashed tamarind, hibiscus tea, etc.

  • OtterQueen

    bottled dressing = bleh!

  • Tatts

    Jojo and Jacques Pepin’s wife are right. Lemon juice vinaigrette is better. Way better. I only discovered it a few years ago. Much more interesting and subtle. Yum.

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