15 April 2017

French dressing

Are you old enough to remember the bottled salad dressing that was called "French dressing" in America? I sure am. I suppose it's still available in supermarkets. It was big in the 1950s and '60s, when I was growing up. That was before I first came to France and realized that the real French salad dressing was home-made vinaigrette.


According to the Wikipedia article about French dressing, it was made with olive oil, vinegar, tomato paste, ketchup, brown sugar, paprika, and salt. Notice the ketchup and the brown sugar, both of which are not only sweet but have very strong flavors. I say: leave them out.


Recently, I've been making a dressing that I'd call vinaigrette à la tomate, or tomato vinaigrette. It turns out to be really good on salad greens. It looks like the old American "French dressing" but its taste is clean and fresh, not cloyingly sweet. The ingredients are tomato paste, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and salad oil (olive or other). Actually, for years I've been making tomato vinaigrette using finely chopped fresh tomato (in season), but not with tomato paste.


For the day's salad, spoon one generous tablespoon of tomato paste into a big salad bowl. Add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, a teaspoon of white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste, and stir well. Once it's well mixed and the salt has dissolved, whisk in 2 or 3 tablespoons of oil. Optionally, add some onion, shallot, garlic or herbs like parsley, tarragon, or oregano. Toss salad greens in it. You'll like it. It's just a vinaigrette with tomato paste added to it.

18 comments:

  1. Our traditional vinaigrette was one part white wine vinegar in which the salt was dissolved plus three parts olive oil and some ground black pepper.

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    1. I first came to France in 1970, and I started learning French cooking from French people in 1972. I have always had vinaigrette with mustard in it. Despite the fact that, to some, a traditional vinaigrette is only vinegar, salt, and oil. Pepper is frowned upon.

      Back in the 1970s, people I knew in Rouen and Paris didn't use olive oil. They said the taste was too strong. But they did put Dijon mustard in their vinaigrette. They were from Burgundy or Champagne and had lived in places like Besançon. Maybe they weren't true Parisians where vinaigrette is concerned. They also made tomato vinaigrette using fresh tomato finely chopped, if I remember correctly.

      It's always been "kosher" to add some diced shallot, onion, or garlic to vinaigrette. Or some tarragon (or tarragon-flavored vinegar). A lot of it depends on what kind of lettuce you are dressing. Escarole or frisée are often dressed with a garlic vinaigrette.

      Traditions, like language, evolve. LOL.

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  2. seems like a lot of tomato paste

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    1. Tomato in a salad can only be good. We have tomato paste we made with tomatoes from last year's garden. Maybe better than store-bought... It's always possible to reduce the quantity.

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  3. I always use Dijon in vinaigrette to help emulsify the oil and vinegar. The addition of tomato paste sounds like such a good idea and would also help, I'd think. I remember when French waiters would make the dressing at the table...first mix the vinegar and Dijon together and then slowly, slowly add the oil while "beating" the mixture until it was creamy.

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  4. I like the idea of using chopped fresh tomatoes. I never really liked our French dressing on anything except grapefruit/avocado salads.

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    1. I think I ate a lot of that "industrial" French dressing during my first two years in college. And a lot of beans and franks. Afterwards, I wondered how we ever came to think it was French. Without the ketchup and brown sugar, the tomato vinaigrette dressing is pretty good.

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  5. That sounds interesting... I like that it's not sweet... and it's fresh, fresh, fresh!

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    1. Exactly. It's especially good made with fresh garden tomatoes or our home-made tomato paste.

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  6. I had a cookbook once that was written in the 50s and it made me laugh every time ... there was never anything fresh, ketchup instead of a tomato etc ..

    I only use Dijon .. I like it on bread when making grilled cheese sandwiches too :)

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    1. Those grilled cheese sandwiches with dijon mustard sound really good. Put on a slice of tomato and and see how you like that.

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  7. Ken, I am sure I will love it :)

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    1. We make a tomato pie in which you spread a thin layer of Dijon mustard on the bottom of a cooked pie shell, arrange some tomatoes on top of it, and bake that in the oven. It's great.

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  8. I'm pretty sure that industrial "French" dressing is still being sold, but these days it contains high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar. Nasty stuff, but it's cheap and in everything.
    I like your tips for homemade dressing, will try them. Thanks.

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    1. I found it on the Safeway on-line shopping site — the Kraft brand. Couldn't read the label to see the ingredients though.

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    2. from a Google link: "Ingredients: Water, Corn Syrup, Vinegar, Sugar, Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), Modified Food Starch, Salt, contains less than 2% of Xanthan Gum, Garlic Juice, Paprika, Mustard Flour, Propylene Glycol Alginate, Artificial Color, Yellow 6, Vitamin E Acetate, Potassium . . ."
      Yours sounds much better.

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