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In the United States and Great Britain especially, the term “French dressing” is used to refer to a vinaigrette. It is also used in reference to Catalina dressing, a variation on the vinaigrette which is sweeter and creamier. In addition to being readily available in most markets, French dressing is also very easy to make at home. When cooks make their own, they can also adjust the seasoning to taste.
A vinaigrette is any kind of dressing which starts with a base of oil and vinegar. Other ingredients such as salt, pepper, herbs, and spices are also very common, with mustard vinaigrette being a common and classic variation. The vinaigrette can be served on any number of foods from salads to breads, and it is a staple of French cuisine.
At some point during the late 1800s, English speakers began to refer to a vinaigrette as a French dressing, probably in a reference to its origins. Although both terms are used interchangeably in English, in some regions, “French dressing” is the more acceptable terminology, while “vinaigrette” tends to be more popular along the coasts and in urban areas.
However, unwary consumers who think of a French dressing as a vinaigrette can sometimes be surprised, especially in the American South. The Catalina dressing variant also includes ketchup and sugar, resulting in a sweeter and more pinkish dressing. Mayonnaise is also not an uncommon addition to Catalina dressing, and mustard, along with paprika, are also often used. The result is sweet with a faint hint of spice.
Because of the regional variations on French dressing, it may help to ask for a vinaigrette when vinaigrette is desired, and for Catalina or French dressing when a more creamy and sweet version is desired. One can also simply ask what the ingredients in a dressing are to eliminate any confusion.
When making the dressing at home, of course, the imagination is the limit on ingredients, since presumably you know what you want. Start with a base of oil and vinegar and work up from there. Once made, a French dressing can be stored under refrigeration for quite some time, although it will probably need to be shaken before use. In a very cold fridge, the oil may also separate and congeal. This is not at all harmful, although the dressing should be allowed to come to room temperature before use so that diners are not surprised with clots of oil.
For dieters and those just trying to eat healthy, salad dressings can be one of your worst nightmares, or best friends. French dressing can be quite bad for you, depending on what oil is used and what is added to it.
On average, the fat free version of French dressing can have anywhere from 30 calories per 2 tablespoons to a couple of hundred calories for the same amount if it is full fat.
A good rule of thumb is to always ask what is in it, and if you feel to shy, get the dressing on the side and just dab your salad into it. There is no need to drown your veggies. After all, they are supposed to be good for you.
As with any food, dressings can be either fantastic, or terrible. I love French dressing and have spent a long time experimenting with different ingredients to get it just right for me. Would anyone like to share his or her recipe for French dressing?
For my favorite mix I use a big jar and put the following in it. A 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, a 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 3/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika, 1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard, 1/4 freshly ground pepper, and one garlic clove.
Once you have it all in, seal the jar and shake it to mix. Put it in the refrigerator for 8-12 hours to cool, then take out the garlic and it is ready to go.
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