Vinaigrette Maison: A Classic French Vinaigrette

French Vinaigrette (left) versus American “French” Dressing (right). Photo by Richard Swearinger.

Here’s a recipe for French vinaigrette. It’s a classic French vinaigrette recipe I’ve been making for years. 

My introduction to a classic French vinaigrette came during my first trip to France, when I stayed with the Lavigne family in Burgundy, and Madame Lavigne would make her vinaigrette salad dressing at the dining-room table.

I’d watch as she’d crush the garlic with the salt and pepper, add the vinegar—and of course the Dijon mustard (Dijon is in Burgundy, after all)—then whisk in the oil, never with measuring spoons, but with a careful eye and a steady hand.

While she was justifiably proud of her vinaigrette recipe, I don’t think Madame Lavigne made the dressing in front of us to show off. Rather, she wanted to make a fresh vinaigrette, but also wanted to be part of the ongoing fellowship at the table rather than stuck in the kitchen. She also wanted to make sure her salad was dressed just seconds before she served it.

All cooks should have their own “house dressing,” whether or not they make it at the table in front of family and friends. This recipe is for a garlicky French vinaigrette. Use the recipe as written, or as a template to build your own. For example, some cooks refer milder shallots to zippy garlic, others might whisk in some chives or other fresh herbs, while sometimes lemon juice hits the spot instead of vinegar—you get the idea. P.S.: If you’re looking for that orange-red American “French” dressing, find it here.)

A Classic Recipe for French Vinaigrette

Makes about 1/4 cup (enough to dress 4 side salads)
1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, red or white wine vinegar, or sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or sunflower oil
1 to 2 drops hot pepper sauce (optional)

Put the garlic into the bowl in which you will eventually serve the salad. Add the salt and pepper (keeping in mind that this will be the seasoning for the salad) and use the back of a spoon to make a rough paste. Add the vinegar and whisk until the salt is dissolved. Whisk in the mustard. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking until incorporated. Whisk in the hot pepper sauce, if desired.

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