The French live to eat, and they are traditionalists. They find a dish they like, they stick with it. Remember when food in the states had names? At a fine restaurant back in the day, there was Beef Stroganoff and Seafood Newburg on the menu. These days, one restaurant dish might take a paragraph.
But in France, lots of dishes still have titles. Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Pot au Feu, you know the names. The traditional foods are revered (with good reason, I might add), and messing about with them would be strongly discouraged.
Which brings us to French Salad Dressing #1. My husband has given it this name, but c’est une blague (joke!), because there really is no number two. No, the waiter will not recite that familiar litany, “honey mustard, blue cheese, ranch, parmesan peppercorn?” Your server will simply bring you a salad, all dressed up in #1.
Which is a good thing. Because French Dressing #1 is delicious. Every decent French cook can make it in his or her sleep. It in NO WAY resembles the orange, thick, creamy stuff that is bottled French dressing in the states. The origin of that little translation remains a mystery.
A side note: I was educated about the nuances of dressing salads forever after our first trip to Italy, with our good friends Darlena and George. We splurged one day and had lunch at the fabulous Splendido in Portofino. When my husband ordered a green salad, the waiter arrived pushing a huge cart with at least 25 kinds of olive oil and as many vinegars. He waved his hand magnificently over the collection and said “Prego, Signore…?” It cured me of bottled dressing forever.
Here then, is my version, gleaned from my French friends, of French Dressing #1 (merci, Mireille and Nicole!). Y’all just mix it up in a big fat empty Dijon mustard jar to have on hand and you’ll never buy bottled dressing again!
RECIPE: French Dressing #1
First, finish off that big jar of good quality Dijon mustard that’s in your fridge (none of that yucky bright yellow stuff, please). Use this as your container (but buy more, you’ll need lots!). Of course any jar will do, but we’re going for good karma here.
Fill about a third of your jar with fresh squeezed lemon juice. You may, if you choose, add white or champagne vinegar in place of some of the juice. Add one small finely chopped shallot (or garlic), some sea salt, ground pepper and a teaspoon or so of sugar (important. A little yin to the tangy yang). Then add A LOT of said mustard. For a 7 oz, jar, a heaping tablespoon will do. Shake well. Fill it up with good, extra virgin olive oil and shake again. Taste to correct seasoning. Refrigerate, but take it out a bit before you use it as it may thicken when cold (3 seconds in the microwave also solves that problem). Shake well just before using.
The Anglos reading this will of course want to tweak and fiddle, especially those of the southern persuasion. May I suggest that grainy Dijon mustard is good as well, or get crazy with a basil, tarragon, or other flavored mustard. Also you may add a generous splash of walnut oil , and the French will not disapprove. Minced fresh herbs are fabulous here too, but stir them in at the last moment.
Coming soon, we're off to the saturday market, plus my all-time favorite French summer salad recipe to put UNDER this dressing, so be sure to subscribe. And if you already have, merci beaucoup!
And a Hot Tip: our British friends have a gîte (vacation apartment) in a darling Burgundy village, with the best views and most beautiful garden in the region! Go to: http://les4cheminees.co.uk.