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
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)