Vinaigrette is a simple sauce made by mixing oil with vinegar in a 3:1 ratio. There are thousands of recipes for Vinaigrette from around the world. Naturally, New Orleans has its own recipe called the Creole Vinaigrette, which relies on creole mustard and horseradish. Among all the Creole Vinaigrettes, there is one very special one from Bon Ton Cafe on Magazine Street. The Bon Ton is a New Orleans landmark and a favorite lunch spot of the downtown office crowd, renowned for its Turtle Soup and Redfish Bon Ton. When we still worked in New Orleans across the street from the Bon Ton, I used to be wined and dined there by salesmen looking for contracts. The Bon Ton used to print their vinaigrette recipe on cards and leave them on tables for guests to take home. Obviously, we kept one.
One of the main ingredients of any vinaigrette sauce is mustard. Outside of New Orleans, this typically is Dijon-style mustard (moutarde de Dijon). Dijon, being the historical capital of the province of Burgundy, has long been a center of good food and wine. This region is the cradle of some of the finest French cuisine: Beef bourguignon, Coq au vin, Escargot, Gougère and pain d'épices (gingerbread), superb vins d'appellation contrôlée and liqueurs. Naturally, with food and wine come condiments. The term Moutarde de Dijon simply designates a method of making a particularly strong mustard, not always necessarily made in the city of Dijon. (This is similar to "Pilsner" beer, referring to a particular type of lager, not necessarily from Pilsen.) Moutarde de Dijon nevertheless originated in Dijon in 1856, when Jean Naigeon started substituting verjuice (juice of unripened grapes) for vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe. Dijon mustards today generally contain verjuice, white wine, wine vinegar or a combination of all three.
Dijon mustard is typically smooth and has a pale tan to yellow color. Other French mustards include Bordeaux mustard (usually pale yellow in color, made with unfermented grape juice) and Beaujolais Mustard (similar to Bordeaux, but made with different grapes giving it a deep burgundy color). Creole Mustard looks and tastes completely different from Dijon, Bordeaux or Beaujolais mustard. It uses brown mustard seeds marinated in vinegar (Dijon uses brown or black), ground and mixed with horseradish into a spicy hot mustard.
Creole mustard is obviously a must in any New Orleans kitchen. In New Orleans, the undisputed powerhouse of Creole spices and condiments is the Zatarain's brand. Other labels include Arnaud's (after Arnaud's Restaurant), Rex Foods, Maison Louisianne Creole Products, and lately also companies like Abita Beer.
Last updated: October 12, 2010