Most of the food that is cooked at Chef Gabrielle Hamilton’s 30-seat restaurant in lower Manhattan, Prune, is the food that her mother cooked for her and her siblings growing up. Gabrielle’s mother was a serious French cook and taught her family how to eat, cook and most importantly enjoy the classics. This classic vinaigrette was usually made in the bottom of the salad bowl itself.

Salt and garlic gets pulverized and the dijon mustard is added for “bottom” or a kind of base. Then vinegar is added then the oil is added to be emulsified. Pepper is added to taste. Mix the lettuce in by hand so that each leaf is glistening but not weighed down by the dressing.

PRUNE VINAIGRETTE

Reprinted with permission from Prune.

Yield: 3 cups

Ingredients

3 cloves fresh, firm, sticky cloves garlic, peeled just before using
¼ cup plus 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
½ cup red wine vinegar
2 ½ cups blended olive oil
2 ½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons water

Directions

  1. Add garlic and salt to the bowl of a food processor and start it running. Add the mustard, then the vinegar, and, when the contents of the bowl are fully blended, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream to emulsify. Season with pepper.
  1. Stop the motor, taste for balance between acid and salt and garlic, and, with the motor running, add the adjustments as necessary.

This is not a shy vinaigrette but still, there should be balance – you don’t want the attack of the vinegar too forceful or the aggression of the garlic to make anybody sit back uncomfortably. Equally, the black pepper needs to be ground to the right flake so that a customer does not end up with half a peppercorn lodged in her tooth, burning away.

Often, a couple teaspoons of cold water added at the end brings the whole package into shape – taste-wise and texture-wise. Because some batches of vinegar are mellower than others and because the size and force of garlic cloves vary adjust as needed by adding oil to calm it if it is too bright, adding a clove of microplaned garlic if it is too subtle, or adding a little water if it is too assertive in general.

EVOO is too strong – use the 70% / 30% blended oil.

Keep ratio 4:1 oil to vinegar.

SOFT LETTUCES VINAIGRETTE

Well-washed Bibb, Red Leaf, or Little Gem lettuce. (Perky. Lively. Fresh. Seriously. Pay attention. I have seen some wilted crap come out of this kitchen).

Prune vinaigrette.

Tear only once, by hand, and toss leaves in vinaigrette in stainless bowl before mounding into our wooden bowls to serve. This way you can see if you have properly dressed. Over sodden and the leaves can’t “stand up.”

Reuse the same metal bowl for multiple order but be aware of the dressing that builds up in there and contributes to overdressing.

Change out your bowl every three orders.

Season with a final sprinkle of salt and few grinds of black pepper once in bowl – and rain from on high, both salt and pepper. Keep the portion serious – we want a real salad, not a garnish.