Our high school French teacher, Mlle. Perlman, took a bunch of us to see a French film with Alain Delon and out for a “French” meal afterwards. She really was trying to give us a feel for French life. And despite her best efforts, I can remember very little about that field trip, except for the salad dressing. Yep, the salad dressing. And the picture of Alain Delon on the movie poster.
Crepe restaurants were all the rage back then, and it was certainly a safe bet to take bunch of high school girls to one in the 70’s. By our standards, it seemed exotic, and well, quite sophisticated. I had a leg up, though, having been to
France and having bought a pair of black steel crepe pans (still have them) from a street market in to drag back stateside. I had already learned to make a decent crepe at home. But the magic for me at that meal wasn’t the crepes, it was the salad dressing. Every entrée came with a small salad. They didn’t ask what you wanted on it, it just came with the house dressing. It was a revelation. It was faintly tart, creamy and not gloppy like the usual thick, heavy mayonnaise dressings. Very not Ranch. Paris
I HAD to know what it was and the waitress hadn’t a clue, nor did she volunteer to ask in the kitchen. After several visits to the same restaurant, just for the salad, finally I was able to corner the manager and ask what it was. Vinaigrette made with heavy cream, not oil. Along with chives and chervil. Vinaigrette à la crème.
Rushed home, and up to my room. Already a budding cookbook collector, I had two possible choices, it being pre-Google and all: Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and Mapie, the Countess de Toulouse-Lautrec’s “La Cuisine de France”. I found it in Mapie! The recipe in Julia had too much stuff in it, -- with egg yolks and oil, it was too much like a mayonnaise. I still use both books, too. Both are first editions, and, is it unpatriotic to own that I still actually prefer Mapie’s book over Julia’s?
This has become one of my own favorite house dressings and I’ve been startled to find it served fairly often in
. Who knew? I hope you like it as much as I do. Using different vinegars or fruit juices and adding fresh herbs, or omitting the mustard allows you to change the character of this dressing at will. France
Vinaigrette à la crème
Adapted from Mapie’s “La Cuisine de France”
1/3 cup heavy cream, pasteurized NOT ultra pasteurized
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
1 T finely minced chervil or Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Whisk the vinegar and mustard into the cream, let stand a minute or two to thicken. It'll be about the consistency of buttermilk. Add the herbs and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Makes a scant ½ cup.