Food

The Best French Vinaigrette You’ll Ever Have

My parents spent a few years in Paris in their twenties, and even though they’ve been back in the States for decades, my mom still waxes nostalgic about the French salads. It’s not the greens she cares about. It’s the perfectly peppery, garlic-y, lemon-y dressing that coats each leaf and brings the salade to a whole new level. So, I was thrilled when Amanda Hesser from Food52 agreed to reveal her ideal vinaigrette recipe…


The Best Vinaigrette You’ll Ever Have
By Amanda Hesser of Food52 (and one of my favorite memoirs!)

There are two kinds of vinaigrette makers. Those who add honey, agave or some sort of sweetener to button up the acidity and tone down any strong flavors, and those who embrace the vinegars and uncouth garlic, and let it all hang out. I’m firmly in this latter group. I like a masochistic salad with bitter greens and an assertive dressing. I like to know I’m eating salad, damn it, and that the dressing is my master.

Green goddess, Caesar and bagna cauda sauce are my heroes. And my go-to vinaigrette is an homage to them all. I mash together an anchovy with just a tiny tot of a garlic clove (garlic doesn’t take much to get its point across) and salt. The salt helps grind them up. Then I dilute this paste with fresh lemon juice–and do use a fresh lemon, an old lemon will ruin this dressing and your dinner–and Dijon. You can season the dressing with freshly ground black pepper, but I sometimes like to add the faintest spark of pimento d’espelette (or the like: cayenne, crushed red pepper flakes). Then it’s up to a good but not fancy olive oil to lash it all together.

Recipe: My Go-To Vinaigrette

You’ll need:
1 anchovy
1 small garlic clove
Salt
Juice from half of a nice fresh lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil, something good but not too fancy
Freshly ground black pepper or small pinch piment d’espelette

In a mortar and pestle, mash the anchovy, garlic, and a pinch of salt to a paste. Squeeze in the lemon juice and stir to break up the anchovy paste. Beat in the mustard. Either beat or whisk in the olive oil, a few glugs at a time. The vinaigrette should emulsify but will never become super tight and even, and that’s ok. Season with the pepper or chilis. Wash some sturdy or bitter greens, and you’re on your way to salad paradise.

Thank you, Amanda! Now the second question: Any great salad ideas? My favorite salad has spinach, Parmesan, avocado, tomatoes and pine nuts. I’d love to hear other ideas…

P.S. More best recipes, including roast chicken and French fries.

(Photos by James Ransom. Thanks to Shoko for help with this series)

  1. MB says...

    This is one of the most delicious salad dressing I have ever made. I must admit, I was lazy and put everything into my Vitamix blender then seasoned with pepper, and I also used anchovy paste. We used it on a spinach salad, and it dressed it up perfectly!

    • Alex Blake says...

      How much anchovy paste did you use?

  2. Anne Teele says...

    There are numerous ways to make salad dressing, some laborious. My recipe for the simplest, quickest, most delicious dressing is this. I always have this in my pantry: a good lemon-infused olive oil, a truffle-infused olive oil and a good white balsamic or champagne vinegar. Get all these ingredients in your local Homegoods or TJMaxx — they are half-price. Why get a lemon-infused olive oil? Well, I don’t always have fresh lemons around, so there. But lemon infused in the olive oil is way better, flavor-wise, than using fresh anyway. Why truffle? Because that is the secret ingredient that will transform your good salad dressing into FABULOUS salad dressing.

    Get your greens together in a large bowl. Please always spin the greens to remove excess moisture after washing or dry them in a clean dish towel before shredding or slicing. I like shredded greens — you don’t have to open your mouth wide and look ugly while eating it.

    You can skip these other ingredients, but they add pizazz to your salad if you have them: sunflower seeds (cheapest nuts in the market) or any nuts will do (rough-chop them in a ziploc bag if they’re the large kind), raisins (or whatever dried fruits), other compatible veggies or fruit (any fruit that you can cut without them getting mashed up in the bowl). My favorite is a combination of thinly sliced tomatoes and strawberries. Now, just eyeball the amount you need and sprinkle the oils and vinegar over the salad, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, fluff-toss and voila. Go easy on the truffle oil — a little goes a long way, but the flavor it adds is like no other. No pounding of ingredients needed. If you want to add garlic, mash a few cloves with the back of a cleaver or knife and rub it all over the bowl and discard before adding the greens. I’m not kidding, this is so easy you can have a salad every meal or whenever your body dictates it.

  3. It is not vinaigrette without vinegar. Should use both lemon and vinegar and a bit of salt to intensify the flavors.
    My grandmother used to make the perfect dressing. She used lemon and vinegar. This was a woman who used have huge dinners for the diplomatic corps in South America. She learned a lot from the chefs.

  4. Someone asked me this question over the weekend and I must have really raised an eyebrow or something, because the person went on to Free Shipping Yacon Syrup UK say she really just wanted to have the BEST wedding possible and how do you go about getting it?Someone asked me this question over the weekend and I must have really raised an eyebrow or something,because the person went on to say she really just wanted to have the BEST wedding possible and how do you go about getting it?

  5. Someone asked me this question over the weekend and I must have really raised an eyebrow or something, because the person went on to

    Pure Yacon Syrup say she really just wanted to have the BEST wedding possible and how do you go about getting it?Someone asked me this question over the weekend and I must have really raised an eyebrow or something,because the person went on to say she really just wanted to have the BEST wedding possible and how do you go about getting it?

  6. I love Arugula with Mozzarella and Mango (sounds weird but it completely won me over) or Romaine with Shrimp, Avocado and Grapefruit.

  7. You use anchovy paste if you don’t feel like mashing up anchovies?..
    Just a thought.

  8. This list rocks my socks! Thanks for compiling and sharing. I’ve been talking about the oil-free dressings Whole Foods Market is now offering, but they don’t have them on their website and a lot of people I know don’t have access to WFM. This list makes oil-free dressings within everyone’s reach. No excuse not to try one of the options.

    Wholesale Salad Dressing

  9. A masochistic salad with bitter greens and an assertive dressing – I LOVE that description. (Probably because I love that kind of salad too!)

    I make my own salad dressings all the time (it’s the only way to go) and can’t wait to try this one. It sounds amazing (in a totally non-masochistic kind of way).

  10. YUM! I have always been afraid of using anchovies, bus this dressing sounds glorious…and not too sweet :)

  11. I’ve made this twice over the past week and absolutely love it. It goes great with all the vegetables I get in my CSA box. Thanks!

  12. I made this salad dressing by replacing the anchovy with capers mushed in the mortar & pestel with the garlic and it was superb. I’m going to eat this all Summer long!

  13. If the whole anchovies scare you (as they do me!), you can try finding anchovie paste. I use if often in salad dressings, and it is so quick, easy, and delicious.

    Love this post!

  14. thanks for sharing the recipe!!

  15. Anonymous says...

    Does Amanda have a recommendation for a good mortar and pestle?

  16. B says...

    Yum!

    Technically, when lemon juice is the acid it’s citronette… But doesn’t that sound fussy?

    Basic formula =
    1 part acid : 3 parts oil
    + salt to taste (always)

    To dress up dressing…
    + black pepper (almost always)
    + coordinating flavors you love (dijon, anchovies, garlic, shallot, spices, orange flower water, olive…)

    Right now, for spring / summer, I’m loving salads with tons of herbs in place of a good portion of more commonly used salad greens.

    And, always, radishes (+ their tops, whenever they’re nice)

  17. I read Mr. Latte during a post-breakup trip to Vegas and I swear it cured me. Plus, this recipe is incredible. Totally throwing it on my Pinterest board. Thank you!!

  18. Juliette says...

    Errr if I may… I’m French and if it’s called vinaigrette it’s because it’s suppose to contain some vinaigre… Red wine vinegar for a basic vinaigrette and balsamic for something a bit fancier.

  19. I think vinaigrette is the first recipe every French kids learns. My husband learned it from his grandmother and he already taught it to our 4 yr old daughter. One wooden spoon, three spoons of olive oil, one spoon of red wine vinegar poured right over the greens. Toss. Voila! Xx

  20. I have just discovered anchovies in dressings and they are addictive little fishies. At the moment I am loving lightly grilled zucchini strips with a touch of olive oil with toasted pine nuts, creamy vintage cheese piece, thin red onion rings and a scatter of baby spinach leaves.
    Thank you. Elizabeth from thedotdotblog

  21. I simply cannot resist anchovies, especially in a vinaigrette.

    That and good flavor combinations for salads. I usually toss fruit into my salads (so hold the anchovies, sadly) and here are some of my all time favorite combinations.

    mixed greens + apricot (fresh or dried apricot that has been slightly plumped by soaking it in hot water) + feta cheese + thinly sliced red onions

    halloumi + strawberries + balsamic + baby spinach
    http://paperdollparade.blogspot.de/2011/09/halloumi-salad.html

    fresh peaches + tomatoes + olive oil + lemon juice + rosemary

    yay for summer and salad season!

  22. Anonymous says...

    I cannot eat salad dressing that is that heavy on the oil. Mine is usually almost 50/50 olive oil and vinegar. Yuck. It sounds really yummy but I like my dressing far more sharp. That isn’t even vinaigrette, technically.

  23. Yum. My favorite salad by far is endive, pears, bleu cheese and walnuts, with a shallot-y, herb-y dressing.

    A great way to use up the rest of the tin/jar of anchovies is Sicilian spaghetti. My kids love it so much they probably exceed the daily allowance of refined carbs by 500% when we have it. So good!

    I love this series.

  24. Yum. My favorite salad by far is endive, pears, bleu cheese and walnuts, with a shallot-y, herb-y dressing.

    A great way to use up the rest of the tin/jar of anchovies is Sicilian spaghetti. My kids love it so much they probably exceed the daily allowance of refined carbs by 500% when we have it. So good!

    I love this series.

  25. Sounds delicious and still simple – not too many ingredients – I love that.
    Can’t wait to try it out.

  26. love mr. latte, and love amanda hesser. you get the best bloggers, and i so love this whole series!

  27. Forgot to mention another good French salad — Salad Nicoise — greens with tuna, potato, marinated green beans, capers, and hard-boiled egg quarters, served with vinaigrette. It is very good as a main course in the summer… we just had it for dinner tonight, but had to substitute green olives for capers and cucumbers for green beans — no one seemed to mind! Always love to get new ideas for salads — great post!

  28. My favorite is French Walnut Oil Vinaigrette — the recipe is on the back of “La Tourangelle Roasted Walnut Oil”. It reminds me of the vinaigrette from the French restaurant where we were engaged 29 years ago! I reduce the amount of balsamic vinegar so the quantities are:

    4 Tbsp. Roasted Walnut Oil, 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar, 1 tsp. Dijon mustard, dash of salt to taste.

    This is great served over any salad, and if you want to try something different, a French roasted beet salad is delicious — roasted beets and crumbled goat cheese on top of mixed greens, with Roasted Walnut Vinaigrette on top.

    For a simple lunch salad, a lot of times I just have mixed greens with a crumble of goat cheese and just a bit of plain Roasted Walnut Oil (no vinegar, etc.) — yum!

  29. i toss avocado, caramelized walnuts, dried cranberries and a bag of spring greens with my homemade dressing (evoo, shallot, mustard, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper and just a little honey)

  30. That’s almost the recipe my dad always made growing up, but the anchovy is something new I must try!

  31. I studied abroad in Angers, France and my host mom made the most amazing dressing ever! No French woman will ever give you their recipe for vinaigrette. I’m desperately trying to recreate it still!!

  32. Tender baby spinach, thin sliced purple onion, chunky tomatoes, chopped green bellpepper, feta cheese, kalamata olives (optional) – dress with balsamic and olive oil (half and half in small leak proof container – shake well to combine). The dressing mixes with the feta to make a creamy, tart dressing, the tomato and onion have sweetness, the bell pepper adds a crisp crunch. It’s so easy to throw together. The perfect bite has a little of everything. Top with grilled chicken for a meal!

  33. Hmm… I wonder if I could substitute capers for the anchovy? I know, not totally authentic, but I am not a huge fan of anchovies…

  34. My go-to dressing is olive oil and balsamic vinegar. When I use Dijon mustard, I always omit the vinegar. It’s a good strong taste just with the olive oil and Dijon. Have to try this one with anchovy and lemon!

  35. @katie roz: Vingear AND lemon? Lemon is so much better than vinegar in salad dressings unless you’re going for that balsamic taste.

  36. looks super yum, but where’s the vinegar? can’t have a vinaigrette without it, right?

    i love a kick-your-butt dressing as well, but lately i’m worn out on dijon. i’ve been skipping dijon in my vinaigrettes, and instead adding yogurt for a creamy-tangy treat.

  37. Have made this dressing (sans anchovy) for my whole life. The anchovy is a great idea, I will have to try it.

  38. Anonymous says...

    My husband and I love butter lettuce with grilled chicken breast (seasoned with lemon zest, basil, garlic powder salt&pepper, boiled egg slices, thin slices of apple, yellow pepper, avocado, red pepper goat cheese and a sprinkling of these raw food food snacks called “krumbleez” ( the apple cranberry kind). It sounds like such a mash up- but all together it is so wonderful with a tangy/garlicky vinaigrette. We eat this at least once a week.

  39. Anonymous says...

    My husband and I love butter lettuce with grilled chicken breast (seasoned with lemon zest, basil, garlic powder salt&pepper, boiled egg slices, thin slices of apple, yellow pepper, avocado, red pepper goat cheese and a sprinkling of these raw food food snacks called “krumbleez” ( the apple cranberry kind). It sounds like such a mash up- but all together it is so wonderful with a tangy/garlicky vinaigrette. We eat this at least once a week.

  40. I love a good salad dressing! My mom is always making a similar one with a hint of orange juice.

    Go to salad? Spring greens, grape tomatoes, avocado and cilantro. Yum.

  41. Cooking for Mr. Latte is one of those books I like to reread while eating. :)

  42. I am forever looking for good vinaigrette recipes, and this one definitely just jumped to the top of my to-do list. Yum!

  43. i love that i’m craving a salad right now!!! now that is impressive writing. :)

  44. My sister has been really into garlic lately. I haven’t developed a taste for it yet, but who knows!

  45. Looks amazing. My fiance loves a fresh vinaigrette and I just haven’t found a good recipe. Gonna try this pronto.

    A Refreshed Take Off

  46. Great recipe!…Need to remember that one for diversity..Being married to a French man..we have made our French vinegarette for years! My favorite salad – fresh greens, shallots, pears and dried cranberries with a marvelous vinegarette!

  47. ONE anchovy? I want to try this recipe because it sounds delicious but I’m wary of recipes that call for a teensy tiny bit of one ingredient, leaving the remaining tin of anchovies to idle in my refrigerator. I’ll have to find an entire anchovy recipe to justify making this vinaigrette.

    • It would still need using up eventually of course, but if you buy a tin of anchovy fillets, use what you need, then put the tin with whatever’s left inside into the freezer then it will be absolutely fine. Probably best to wrap the whole tin in a zip-lock bag or something first, just to keep things tidy :)

    • Laurie says...

      You can freeze the rest of the anchovies on parchment and then store them in a small ziplock in the freezer. Then you’ll have individual ones in the freezer when you need one for this dressing. Made the dressing tonight. So good!

  48. Anonymous says...

    I usually make my dressing with lemon and oil, but will definitely try this recipe with the anchovy, etc. Sounds delicious. i may have to use a food processor though bc i am too lazy for a mortar and pestle!

  49. Mmm…I just came in from picking a bunch of arugala and some fresh raddishes. I know how they’ll be getting topped for lunch this afternoon ;)

  50. When I came back from my last trip to Paris, I waxed nostalgic about the dressing too. No matter if you’re in a fancy restaurant or a hole in a wall they all seem to have it- I wish it was the standard house dressing in the US as well.
    This recipe looks great (and the Food52 recipes are usually awesome), but for those who want something with vinegar, David Lebovitz has a great recipe for a “French Vinaigrette” too, featured here: http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2009/11/how-to-make-french-vinaigrette/

  51. K says...

    Many times I just mix olive oil, lemon and shallots in the bottom of my salad bowl, but this sure takes it up a notch. My husband love anchovies, so I’ll have to try it.

  52. Anonymous says...

    Was the vinegar accidentally omitted from the recipe? Otherwise, while this may be a good dressing, how is it vinaigrette?

  53. I love it when people can be funny while writing about cooking and food, it is the best of both worlds and my approach as well. :) I too, like to know that I am eating a salad, damn it! This dressing sounds so good and I have a fiance who can’t eat a lot of things (food allergies and intolerances) so we make a lot of things from scratch anyway and I have to constantly switch it up to make things interesting! Thanks for this fantastic recipe!

  54. yummers! i really like the flavor of anchovies, but i’m not a fan of the texture, so putting them in a dressing is perfect!

    …my favorite salad right now is simply spinach, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and GOOD balsamic viniagrette (the kind that’s almost syrupy!!)

    no extras needed. it’s so good. we made it for a cookout this weekend (minus the spinach) and didn’t have ANY leftovers!!

    see here:
    http://www.beyondthestoop.com/2012/06/bbq-and-booze.html

    can’t wait to try this one!!
    cheers.

  55. I finally got the kids eating salads and asking for more…as of yesterday. Thanks for this perfect recipe, it came at exactly the right time. I have no idea where to buy anchovies though as I have never considered ever buying one for any reason, so that will be the only “task” involved in this endeavor.

  56. i really need to try anchovies. for some reason, it’s one of my “scary foods,” but clearly, i need to get over myself because i’ve heard over and over and over again how it adds the BEST flavor to food. thanks joanna:)

  57. This comment has been removed by the author.

  58. I like having avocado, strawberry slices, and spinach in the same salad. I usually make my own dressing consisting of OJ, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and seasonings. Simple, yet extraordinary!

    I also will do the same dressing and spinach with mandarin orange slices and dried cranberries to pair with spicy apricot glazed salmon. Delicious. Trust me.

    And sometimes when it is simple greens and I want to keep an equally simple dressing, I’ll use lemon juice and some seasonings. Refreshing!

  59. As a Spaniard, I love anchovies! But this idea of adding lemon to the mix, sounds fantastic! I’ll certainly try it out. As for new ideas for salads, I recently started using Kale. Apparently it’s the ultimate super food and contains much more nutrients than the spinachs, can u believe it? Plus, it’s crunchier and more fullfilling (in case you guys are watching the diet) Bisous!

  60. my favourite salad is greens, crushed toasted hazelnuts, goat cheese, sundried tomatoes and a light vinaigrette. perfect pairings of smoky, creamy, salty and tart. SO GOOD.

  61. Delphine says...

    Stonewall kitchen makes an amazing Champagne-shallot mustard that I use for my vinaigrettes (with just some balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper). Makes the best homemade dressing (take it from this Frenchy!).

  62. “I want to know that I am eating salad, damn it!” another fantastic line. I never knew a post about salad could be so funny.

    I’d love to try this dressing, if only I could get over my fear of mustard. I think I can tolerate it in salad…

  63. sounds delicious! but there’s no vinegar?

    • An acid in about a 1 to 3 or 4 ratio of oil depending on taste is key to a balanced dressing. An acid comes in different forms and in this case it is lemon juice and mustard. These offer complex flavor over plain vinegar. Even meyers vs. eureka lemons offer varying acidity and flavor levels. Read on vin cotta or “cooked wine” for a yet another angle.

  64. “I like a masochistic salad with bitter greens and an assertive dressing.”

    Is possibly one of the best sentences about salad ever written! (And I agree.)