We’ve just returned from a week in Paris, where we ate and drank and walked and swooned in equal amounts. It’s easy to love Paris… it’s easy to be in love in Paris. The thing is, there’s pretty much nothing I could write here about Paris that hasn’t already been written by someone else… probably someone who is a better writer than I am.
I could tell you about how romantic Paris is, how refined the people seem, how beautifully dressed the women are or how wonderful a plate of well cooked confit de canard tastes with a carafe of house wine… but you’ve probably heard it all before. Writers love to wax lyrical about Paris.
But… maybe you haven’t heard so much about sauce moutarde? Maybe this one thing, this tiny taste of Paris, hasn’t been written about a million times? Maybe I could share something unique with you? Maybe. Maybe not. But either way, I have to tell you about this sauce.
We were in a small, very local café for a late lunch. It was sunny and there were several men in dark suits, speaking loudly to each other in French and finishing up their plates of steak frites and carafes of wine before heading back to the office for the afternoon. We dropped into our seats and ordered our own carafe of wine. Nibbled on the basket of baguette we were brought and waited for our plates of steak frites, which arrived piping hot with small dollops of sauce moutarde on the side.
The steaks were tender and perfectly cooked. The frites were hot and salty and guiltily satisfying.
But, the sauce… oh, the sauce.
It was dreamy. It was very sharp, almost spicy from the amount of Dijon mustard used, but the heat was tempered by crème fraiche and white wine. It was divine. We kept eating long after we were full, just so we didn’t leave any of the sauce. When we ran out of frites, we dipped our remaining bits of baguette in the sauce. After we had finished the baguette and decided that we weren’t quite desperate enough to lick the plates, I asked the waiter, in my terribly limited French, how to make the sauce.
He explained the process in detail, and in rapid fire French. I followed about half of what he said, nodding and smiling through the rest. I couldn’t wait to get home to make my own sauce moutarde, and slather it on everything! I made the sauce last night, to go on a piece of poached salmon. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to make it correctly, that I would come up with a weaker version and be disappointed that I couldn’t recreate the sauce of my Parisian dreams.
But, I needn’t have worried. The waiter in the café clearly knew what he was talking about, and managed to explain it so well that even an American with inadequate French skills could follow along. The sauce I made at home was just like the sauce moutarde we had in the café in Paris and it made me both happy that I had a piece of Paris right there on my plate, and sad that I wasn’t still there in that café, with a carafe of red wine to go with my dinner.
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbs butter
¼ cup dry white wine
3-4 heaping tablespoons good Dijon mustard, or more to taste
¼ cup crème fraiche
1 tbs chopped tarragon salt to taste
In a small sauce pan over low heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots to the butter and allow to soften, but not brown, very slowly. This will probably take about 5 mins, but keep your eye on them.
Once the shallots are cooked, add the wine and allow to cook for 1 minute. Then add the mustard to the pan and whisk. You want the mustard, wine and shallots to come together to a thick, creamy consistency. This might take a minute, keep whisking.
Once you’ve whisked in the mustard, whisk in the crème fraiche. Keep whisking until the crème fraiche is completely incorporated and the sauce is very smooth.
To thicken up the sauce, leave it on the lowest heat possible, whisking frequently, for about 15 minutes. Add the chopped tarragon and whisk for a minute.
Then, taste the sauce. It should be very sharp and tangy, but not taste of solely mustard. If it’s too sharp / mustardy, whisk in a little more crème fraiche. If it’s not sharp enough, or tastes overly creamy, add a bit more mustard.
This sauce can be served warm or at room temperature. It is gorgeous on fish, steaks or chicken.