Between my junior and senior years of high school, I spent a summer studying in Paris. Although I knew enough to make a trip to Berthillon, discovered Nutella, and would hang around Fauchon staring at the piles of shining produce (decidedly unobtainable on our student allowance), I did not have a life-changing food epiphany; I developed no attachment to open-air markets and stinky cheese. For the most part my friends and I ate an inoffensive lunch of baguettes and Boursin in the Luxembourg Garden and ordered ice cream at Häagen-Dazs in between our mornings in class and our afternoons in churches, museums, theaters, and parks. We were there for the culture and the language—not the food!
So the parting words of our program director, delivered on the bus that was dropping us off at the airport, came as something of a surprise. The dapper white-haired man in his white suit and tiny sunglasses leaned on his cane and solemnly said, “If you remember only one thing about this program, let it be this: in a vinaigrette, you must use three parts oil to one part vinegar. It never fails. Try different oils, try different vinegars—your friends will think you’re a genius.”
At the time it was hard for me to imagine doing something as glamorous and sophisticated as whipping up my own salad dressing, but you know, I never forgot. It’s a good thing, too, because now I make vinaigrette at least once a week—and I remember that man every single time! Sometimes I get on a streak of bad dressings—too much garlic, not enough mustard, weird amounts of salt and pepper—and then I turn to Jacques Pepin for correction. He says the classic 3:1 ratio is too acidic for him, so the recipe below might raise my program director’s bushy white eyebrow. It’s delicious as is, but if you, like the French, would like to be absolutely correct, simply reduce the amount of oil. And of course, as the program director suggested, you should play around with different oils and vinegars for a dressing that tastes different every time.
Jacques' Vinaigrette in a Jar
-makes about 1 1/2 cups, or enough for 12 salads the way I make them
Adapted from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil or peanut oil, or a mixture of the two
Put all the ingredients in a 12-ounce screwtop jar. Screw on the lid and shake very well. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding more oil or vinegar if necessary.
Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, shaking before each use.