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French cooking 101: Forget dressing, make a Vinaigrette!

My poor non-French people,

At last I have the opportunity to, once again, change your life (and the destiny of your tastebuds), with just one little big news: French dressing is NOT like this at all

(pas du tout!)

Yes, I know, it says French, and even more appetizing “deluxe”, but believe me, this is as French as a smiling waiter in Paris: it just doesn’t exist.

And anyway, just the idea of buying some pre-made sauce to put on a salad wants me to ask for a UN resolution against the entire country that allows such nonsense. Why buying this terrible mix of preservatives and sugar, for such a terrible awful sugary taste that totally destroys the flavor of the vegetables it is associated with? It’s a waste of money -and of another great opportunity to have a good meal.

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I guess the whole thing starts with the word, anyhow.
The French don’t “dress” a salad. You don’t want to hide the flavor of the vegetables: you want to have them with no clothes on, naked. The sauce is just here to enhance the flavors; to photoshop it in a way. But I guess it’s like make up; the French always prefer to go “nude”. It doesn’t mean they have no make up on, it just means they try not show it, and enhance what they think is nice on their figure, not try to be another person…

But let’s go back to our sheeps (“revenons à nos moutons”, let’s go back to the subject)…. In French, we talk about vinaigrette. As you can tell by the name, it’s made out of vinegar. And it’s super easy (and quick) to make.

 

La Vinaigrette Classique

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1 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black ground pepper
3 tablespoons oil

This is one of the first thing a French kid learn to make. As a kid, I remember that my mom asked me to help her prepare dinner by washing the lettuce my grand father had just brought, and preparing the vinaigrette.

It’s easy, but it comes with plenty of rules.

La règle d’or, the golden rule, being that you always use 1 tablespoon of vinegar for 3 tablespoons of oil.
You can use whatever oil and vinegar you like, but the traditionnal combination (the one my mom would make me make), would be red wine vinegar and sunflower oil. Now olive oil is very popular in France, and so is Canola oil, which is considered as a healthy choice, canola oil being full of omega3. Depending on what you are using the vinaigrette for, you can also use fancy oils, like walnut or hazelenut, which give a very particular perfume to the dish.

 

The second rule is the order.
It’s always first the vinegar, then the seasonning, then the oil. This way the salt and the pepper melt in the vinegar and in the sauce.

  • Choose the best vinegar you can (a red wine vinegar must be as beautiful to look at as a good wine, with a nice dark colour, and a great taste)
  •  In a small bowl, or in the large bowl you will toss the salad, combine the vinegar with salt and stir well using a wooden spoon. Add the ground pepper. Stir until totally mixed.
  •  Add a first tablespoon of oil and stir continuously, adding slowly the other tablespoons.
  • C’EST TOUT! (That’s all folks!)

You can now add the other elements, and toss the salad well, or as the French would say, you have to “get her tired”, la fatiguer, until all the elements are all mixed and touched by the vinaigrette. You’ll notice that you don’t need that much vinaigrette in a salad if you toss it well for at least 3 minutes continuously. (Tastes better, and is better for your waistline!)

La Vinaigrette à l’Echalotte

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1  shallot
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black ground pepper
3 tablespoons oil

This is another classic French dressing, with minced shallots.

IMG_8182

Shallots are used a lot in the Touraine region, around Tours, where my father’s familly come from, and that’s how my grand mother prepares her vinaigrette. 20 miles further, where my other grand mother lived, this use of shallots seemed very exotic!

  • Peel the shallot and mince it very thin. Pour in the bowl you will toss the salad in.
  •  Add the red wine vinegar and the salt and stir well (salt doesn’t dilute in oil so it has to be done before), using a wooden spoon. Add the ground pepper. Stir until totally mixed. Add a first tablespoon of oil and stir continuously, adding slowly the other tablespoons.

 

The recipe works also with any kind of fresh herbs you would like to add.

Btw, I’m still amazed at how huge shallots (and onions!) are here : In France, they’re never bigger than a thumb… Here, it’s more like  a fist sometimes!

 

La Vinaigrette à la Moutarde

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1 tablespoon vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons oil

This one is my favorite… With my much loved Moutarde de Dijon
Same way to make it, except you add the mustard before the oil, which makes a much thicker vinaigrette. Great with a green lettuce, to serve with a quiche for example.

Enjoy your vinaigrette, but remember : you can’t catch flies with vinegar (“on n’attrape pas les mouches avec du vinaigre”, you can’t seduce anybody with qomething unapalling to them)

 Bon appétit les amis!

PS: Another great vinaigrette without vinaigre: vinaigrette au citron. Just use the juice of half a lemon instead of vinegar

PS': More recipes and tips on my cookbook, The Everything Easy French cookbook! Preorder it now for  a better price!

 

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