This simple Classic French Bistro Salad, served at cafés, brasseries and bistros all over France, is beyond easy and one of those recipes you'll be turning to again and again (especially when you want to feel a little "fancy") - with minimal effort on your part.
Scott laughs anytime when we're at a little café or bistro in France and the waiter/waitress walks by with a bowl, brimming with fresh salad greens. He knows that the minute I see it, my eyes will get big and I'll have decided what I want to order. It seems that no matter what part of France you visit, these simple salads are an integral part of the menu. I've often tried to duplicate the Classic French Bistro Salad at home, but I was always disappointed. That is, until now!
I think that the reason this super easy recipe was a bit elusive to me dates back to a visit to Paris back in 2015. I attended a culinary class at a fairly well-known cooking school. As with most French cooking classes, we visited the local market, then came back and prepared a meal.
I don't remember much about the meal but I do remember preparing a Classic French Bistro Salad, and they gave us a super easy recipe that I was thrilled to take back to the States and add to my repertoire. The problem was, that every time I made the dressing at home, it just didn't taste right. Too strong, a little bitter, not like the salads I dreamed of from the bistros. I tried different proportions but never really loved the results.
It was a simple list of ingredients; diced shallot, lots of Dijon mustard, olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper. What could be so difficult about that? I decided that, perhaps, one just needed some French heritage to make a proper Classic French Bistro Salad, something I'm sadly lacking.
Fast forward to 2022 and another visit to France, another market visit and cooking school. This time it was in Lyon with Lucy at The Plum Lyon Teaching Kitchen. I asked Lucy if we could make a Classic French Bistro Salad. Such an easy recipe might have seemed an odd request at a French cooking school, but Lucy was gracious to oblige.
We chose some amazing greens at the market, along with ingredients to prepare the rest of the meal and headed back to Plum Lyon.
I definitely had several "ah ha" moments as Lucy instructed us on the Classic French Bistro Salad. First of all, the oil. Lucy used a neutral-flavored oil (in lieu of olive oil) and a splash of walnut oil. She explained that it's okay to use a small portion of olive oil, but the flavor is too strong and overpowers the salad if you use a 100% proportion.
I had just assumed that a dressing in France would include olive oil and it was the inclusive oil in the original salad recipe from the Paris class. I mean, this is France and olive oil reigns here, right? Well, it does, but not for the Classic French Bistro Salad!
The second mistake I was making was too much mustard. Again, it's a French dressing and it should have plenty of mustard, right? Nope! Lucy explained that mustard is simply used as an emulsifier (an agent used to hold together the suspension of oil and vinegar). Lucy's recipe calls for ½ teaspoon of Dijon. Up to a teaspoon is fine, but I was using WAY too much!
The last thing that Lucy shared is to tear the lettuce into fairly small, bite-size pieces. It takes a bit of time but, incorporated with the other two tips mentioned above, it makes a HUGE difference.
How to make a classic French bistro salad
Scott took a few pics one evening this past week as I made this iconic French salad. Unlike lots of other salad dressings, it's best to make it fresh each time. It only takes a few minutes, so it's no big deal and will ensure fabulous results.
Here you go:
I've been making Classic French Bistro Salads ever since the class and I'm happy to say that I'm really pleased with the results. The salad can be served on its own, unadorned for a lovely accompaniment to almost any entree. You can also add whatever strikes your fancy. Lucy drizzled some good French bread with olive oil (yes, it's perfect for this!), added a round of goat cheese and warmed the toasts in the oven. Before serving she added thinly sliced summer squash. Exquis!
Our favorite? Tiny steamed potatoes and in-season tomatoes. This is a complete meal with any grilled, seared or braised entreé.
Put this Classic French Bistro Salad on your must-make list, then pretend you're sitting in a charming outdoor café, bistro or brasserie, on the Seine or the Rhone or on a sunny hillside overlooking the French countryside! Bon Appétit!
P.S. We'll be sharing a whole post detailing our French Market class, as well as several other recipes from the class. It was a 5-star meal and I love that it's easily replicated! So stay tuned!
P.P. S. As I write this post in the heart of France, there is a HUGE mustard shortage going on. It's almost impossible to find Dijon anywhere. It's due to a crop failure in Canada (which exports 80% if the world's mustard and the Ukraine/Russia situation. I believe it's still available in the U.S. but you might want to check your pantry and stock up.
Café Tips for making this Classic French Bistro Salad
- What type of greens to use for this Classic French Bistro Salad? Look for whatever looks prettiest at the market or grocery store. I like to use red or green leaf lettuce, artisan lettuce, field greens, oak leaf, baby Gem lettuce, maché, watercress or butter lettuce. If it's sturdier lettuce, the salad will keep well for longer.
- If you're not using pre-washed greens, make sure that your salad leaves are nice and dry before combining them with the dressing.
- I like to spin my leaves dry with a salad spinner. It doesn't take long and the greens get spun nice and dry.
- Feel free to use 100% neutral-flavored oil for this dressing (instead of a mix, if that's all you have or that's what you prefer. I really like to add a small proportion of nut oil, like walnut or hazelnut oil for really nice flavor.
- What's a neutral-flavored oil? Exactly what it says. It's an oil that doesn't have a strong flavor. Options are sunflower, safflower, avocado, grape seed, canola and vegetable oils.
- There are lots of options for vinegar in this recipe. Red wine vinegar is great, as is sherry, cider vinegar, white wine vinegar and/or champagne vinegar.
- This is not a salad that's saturated with dressing. There's a delicious light coating that you taste with every bite, but the greens will not be dripping with dressing.
- Last night we had a delicious variation of this Classic French Bistro Salad at a nearby local café. It tasted like they used lemon juice instead of vinegar with a little splash of honey, so good!
Thought for the day:
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
What we're listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoy this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear your results, adaptations and ideas for variations.
This simple Classic French Bistro Salad, served at cafés, brasseries and bistros all over France, is beyond easy and yet one of those recipes you'll be turning to again and again (especially when you want to feel a little "fancy" with minimal effort on your part.
- 3 tablespoons neutral flavored oil (sunflower, safflower, avocado, canola or grapeseed oil will all work)
- 1 tablespoon walnut oil (You could use any type of nut oil or extra virgin olive oil.)
- ½-1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or cider vinegar, fresh lemon juice or white wine vinegar)
- ½ medium finely minced shallot
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 7-8 cups tender salad greens Cleaned and spun in a salad spinner, if not pre-washed then torn into bite-size pieces. (See Café Tips above in the post for greens suggestions.)
Combine the oils in a large salad bowl.
Add the Dijon mustard and salt and whisk to combine.
Add the vinegar, finely minced shallot and black pepper. Whisk until slightly thickened.
Add the greens to the bowl and toss until thoroughly coated with the dressing. Take your time and keep tossing until you feel like everything has a thin coat of dressing. Serve, enjoy and pretend you’re in France!
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips to ensure success.
If you prefer to use Metric measurements there is a button in each of our recipes, right above the word “Instructions”. Just click that button to toggle to grams, milliliters, etc. If you ever come across one of our recipes that doesn’t have the Metric conversion (some of the older recipes may not), feel free to leave a comment and I will add it.