Real French Dressing

Real French dressing

I’ll never forget the moment I stepped inside Tata Gabby’s apartment building in France.  The beautiful wrought-iron grating clanged behind us as the door shut out the streets of Nice and the bright summer’s day.   We were enveloped in dimness as we walked up two flights of beautifully tiled stairs.  I struggled to drag my heavy luggage up the steep staircase, breathing in the smell of stone and old cement.  It was the year I turned eleven, and this was the first time I had travelled anywhere without my parents, and one of the first times I had been on an airplane.  My grandmother, who I usually only saw briefly on holidays, was to be my sole caretaker for this terrifying stay abroad with relatives I had never met and who spoke no English.

The long flight across the Atlantic made the light pouring in the large windows of the tiny apartment too bright for my tired eyes as I looked down into the small garden behind the building.  The foreign sights and sounds baffled me with their strangeness.  Loud school children shouted to each other in French, and even glanced up at me from the playground behind their school.  This was the school that my grandmother and her sister had gone to, until they were forced to give up schooling and take up jobs with a dressmaker to help ends meet during WWII.

My cousin Aurore soon arrived, confidently kissing the family and friends who had crowded around the tiny but stylish glass table in the living room.  Older by several years, she seemed impossibly confident and grown-up, and I did not have much to say to her attempts to practice English. She went into the kitchen to help with lunch, and I was urged by my grandmother to go along.  It seemed more comfortable than being stared at and talked about in French by the old relatives, so I followed behind.

When I bashfully peeked around the corner of the kitchen door, my cousin was mixing things in a salad bowl.

“Do you like French dressing?” she asked me.

I immediately thought of the sweet, glossy reddish stuff that is poured over iceberg lettuce here in the States.  It was my favorite salad dressing when I was a kid, probably because it is so ungodly sweet.  “I love French dressing!” I said.

Aurore seemed very satisfied with that, and I watched her make the dressing.  When it was finally time for lunch, I looked over the unusual repast and served myself a big bunch of salad, thinking I would at least feel at home with it.

To my utter surprise, French dressing in the States bears no resemblance whatsoever to what that salad was dressed with.  Instead of the high-fructose corn syrup-saturated glop I was accustomed to, a spicy, tangy flavor overwhelmed my fragile American taste buds.  I had never, ever had a salad dressing like that!  I have remembered it all these years, and here is the recipe to share with you:

Real French Dressing
1/2 cup olive oil (the real stuff, now, not the flavorless “salad oil” or sunflower oil marked up as being from real olives)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
A dash of salt
A grind of pepper
1 Tablespoon good mustard
1 garlic clove, grated.

*Mix all ingredients with a fork, pour over the salad, and toss*

Justin Handville added this note on Facebook:  

Note regarding technique: this is an emulsion. The mustard acts as the emulsifier. Mix the polar ingredients first (everything except the olive oil). Then, slowly, while stirring continuously, drizzle in the olive oil. This emulsion will hold together for an hour or two, so it’s best to make it just before using it.

Emulsifying it this way makes a very fine dressing, and this would be the proper way to make it, but if you don’t have the time, just whisking it with a fork before tossing it into the salad works, too.

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