Recipe of the Week: Julia Child's Vinaigrette

Today’s post is the fourth in a series of weekly Julia Child recipes. This week, renovation program director Patrick Ladden shares his experience whipping up a seemingly simple vinaigrette. 

“I’m a gadget freak” 

Saladspinner Julia introduced the American public to a salad spinner, appearing on a French Chef episode holding an umbrella over her head while she spun the spinner in the sink, removing all the water from the lettuce. In Julia’s kitchen, her salad spinner sits on open shelving to the left of her sink, a convenient arrangement that reflects her belief that tools ought to be right at hand where they are used. We relate the salad spinner to this week’s recipe for vinaigrette because who wants to waste a beautiful emulsion of vinegar and oil on damp salad greens? 

Where to Find the Master Recipe: Vinaigrette Dressing

  • Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, p. 94-95
  • The Way to Cook, p. 348-351
  • The French Chef cookbook, ‘Salads’ p. 14
  • The French Chef series, episode ‘Salad Niçoise’
  • An online version of the recipe in Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom 
Patrick’s Story 

My reaction when given the task of making vinaigrette? “I can do that!” My second thought: I have scored the easiest, nobody-can-make-a-mistake recipe of creating an emulsion using a minimum of two ingredients that are not predisposed to blending, oil and vinegar (or is it lemon? Julia would say a little of both). Third thought: Why am I asked to do vinaigrette? After many years of not cooking on any regular basis, it is clear that anyone who looks at a list of Julia Child recipes alongside a list of potential cooks connects the dots between my name and vinaigrette. I accept. 

I follow Julia’s instructions. Purchase the best and freshest ingredients and enjoy doing it. The farmer’s market yields perfect tomatoes, scallions, shallots, garlic, and Boston lettuce from Whole Foods. Julia’s recommendation for the two main ingredients, imported plain French wine vinegar and light but fragrant French and Italian olive oil. Italian oil it is ($12 and change for 8.5 oz). I cheat somewhat as I don’t actually taste and smell the oil for freshness as recommended. Luckily, the red wine vinegar is home-made by Nanci so I know it is good. (Nanci Edwards is co-curator and project manager of Bon Appétit! Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian.) 

I hew to Julia’s instructions and clean the lettuce in a large bowl of chilled water and use a salad spinner to dry. Julia Child calls a salad spinner a “modern salad dryer the kind that spins off the water inside a container.” Love that. All ingredients assembled, the blending and whisking begin. 

Whisking

Julia specifically says that the standard proportions of vinegar to oil—1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil—make salad dressings too acidic and recommends “dry martini proportions” of 1 to 5, especially if wine will be served with the meal. Wine will be served with this meal. The Way to Cook notes that slow additions of oil and constant beating make the emulsion and, “if the sauce doesn’t take—too bad—just beat it well before using.” The emulsion works without any addition of raw egg white, heavy cream, or condensed milk (sage back-up options from the Julia’s cookbook for people like me). Dress the salad, serve and enjoy. Nanci, Bryan, Tim and I did. 

Finalproduct

Do try this at home! 

We invite you to join with us in this celebration of Julia Child’s life, work, and contributions to American culinary history. Please share your experiences making Julia Child’s recipes by posting your story, photos, or video on our Tumblr page for this recipe series. Don’t forget to check back next week for Turkey Orloff. 

Patrick Ladden is the renovation program manager at the National Museum of American History.