French Dijon Vinaigrette

20 February 2020

Tasty Dijon Vinaigrette salad dressing

Known in the family as my grandmother's salad dressing, this version of vinaigrette has one significant difference from a basic French vinaigrette: instead of regular vinegar, she used cornichon juice, that is the juice found in the jars of cornichons. Being from an era when every bit of leftover was being used, recycled or at last resort, fed to the pigs, while being excessively critical of her own cooking, her recipes often had unusual twists in small details. Cornichon juice is a cooked vinegar macerated with herbs making it both milder and rich in flavors. The vinegar being milder than usual allows for some lemon or lime juice to be added without causing the vinaigrette to become too strong.

As it is easier to balance the flavors of a large batch of vinaigrette just the way you like it, and get the same result each time, go ahead and make enough to fill a jar that will keep a few days. Being that there is no milk product or mayonnaise in the sauce, it is not really necessary to refrigerate although modern food safety rules say that you should being that you have mixed fresh ingredients out in the open. Of course my grandmother would never refrigerate her jar allowing the flavors of the herbs to develop in the sauce over a couple days. The downside being that the herbs exhaust their flavor faster. After 3-4 days, the flavors begin to diminish, while the jar kept cold is good for a week. No need to bring the sauce to room temperature before using it, as the tossing into the salad will take care of that in a minute or two.

The ingredients:

  • 3-part Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1-part Cornichon Juice *
  • Dijon mustard to taste, be generous as it is the dominant flavor
  • Salt, pepper, garlic, shallots, herbs as you wish
  • * Lime juice can be added to the cornichon juice or replace it altogether

The steps:

  1. Chop the shallots, Chop or press the garlic.
  2. Put all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, except the oil.
  3. Mix into a paste
  4. Slowly add the oil using a whisk.
  5. Optional: Add freshly chopped parsley at the very end.

How to:

In the mixing bowl always begin with the ingredients of the smallest amounts: salt, pepper, herbs. It is easier to see how much you are adding to the bowl as you go. Then the vinegar juice, lemon or lime if desired, and the Dijon mustard last. Mix it all together into a paste. Then start adding the oil, a little at the time as you whisk, just as you would be making a mayonnaise. How much oil depends what you will use the vinaigrette for. For artichokes, you want it a little thicker, for leaf salad, a little thinner. It is best to keep it on the creamy side as you can always add oil when you use it. Herbs: Fresh is always best of course. Rosemary, Thyme, Marjoram and Savory are the foundation, make it to your taste. There is a dry mix called "Herbs of Provence" which will give a nice balanced taste if you don't have fresh herbs. Fresh Parsley is best added when you use the sauce, not added to the sauce itself as parsley flavor has a very short life and does not look so bright and fresh after soaking in a sauce.

Fantasy and creativity!

There is a multitude of variations, either popular or obscure. Raspberry vinaigrette is in style these days, Roquefort Vinaigrette is excellent on green leaf salad. Also consider original ways to serve your fantasy vinaigrette: On a platter of cheese as a dipping sauce for the bread, for example. Add some crushed walnut and pear puree as walnut and pear are great complement to any cheese. Instead of the traditional tomatoes in the green salad, how about bits of apple or pineapple as in the top picture?