Monday, February 13, 2012

Vinaigrette à la crème, the antiRanch

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 Paris 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.

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 France. 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.

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
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
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.


  1. Again with the NOT Ultra Pasteurized! Stewart's Shops (gas station/ice cream/mini-mart) actually has their own brand of simply pasteurized cream. I'm glad I found it!

    As for this dressing, I can't wait to try it! How do you think it would be on a cabbage-based salad?

  2. Unless you use a mandolin to shred the cabbage hair-thin, and maybe use an Asian cabbage that's daintier than the round head type, I wouldn't. The dressing is delicate, and better on lettuces.

    Sorry about demanding the non ultra pasteurized cream, but if you place them side-by-side, you can taste a big difference. Plus you can make crème fraîche out of the leftovers if you buy too much.