Mignonette sauce is a vinaigrette which is considered a classic dipping sauce for oysters. Usually spooned onto oysters, this sauce consists of a wine and vinegar reduction that may be seasoned with herbs and spices. The term mignonette refers to the cracked pepper always used in this sauce rather than the sauce itself.
Seasonings often added to mignonette sauce include shallots and, occasionally, white pepper or cilantro. Cracked black or white peppercorns or coarsely ground pepper is always included. For spicier sauces, jalapeño peppers can be added. Although salt is also an addition, it is generally used sparingly, since oysters already have a salty flavor.
Often dry white wine is mixed with vinegar, though French versions may use champagne instead. If wine is not used, white or red wine vinegar or champagne vinegar is always used instead. Wine vinegar may also be combined with the dry white wine.
Although the wine-vinegar mixture is almost always placed in a pan and reduced, this sauce can be made without reducing the wine. The alcohol content that is burned off in the reduction process, however, remains in the non-reduced version of mignonette sauce. Usually, however, the non-reduced versions of this sauce do not include wine or champagne and instead just use the vinegar.
Reductions simply heat a liquid in order to force evaporation, thus reducing the liquid's volume. Usually, the volume is reduced by half. This both thickens the liquid and gives it a stronger flavor since usually it is mostly the water or pure alcohol content that is evaporating.
Once the reduction is complete, the other ingredients are added, and the sauce is mixed. Though it can remain at room temperature overnight, it is usually served cold. Mignonette sauce can keep for over a month in the refrigerator.
To serve, oysters are shucked with an oyster knife. Since oysters are usually eaten raw, it is extremely important to ensure the oysters are good before consuming them. If their shells are open at all before shucking or they smell strongly of rotten eggs after shucking, the oysters should be thrown away. Shucking oysters involves both prying open the shell and detaching the oyster from the shell by cutting the connecting muscle.
Lemon wedges are usually provided as garnish, and their juice is squeezed onto the oysters before the sauce is added. Then, the sauce is spooned over the top of the oyster. Mignonette sauce can also be served with clams.
The standard, classic mignonette recipe consists of only three ingredients: black pepper, shallots, and red wine vinegar. The recipe for the mignonette sauce is incredibly versatile and flexible. If this is your first time making mignonette sauce, try this classic recipe to start.
Classic Mignonette Sauce
- ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup of red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon of raw minced shallots
Add all ingredients together in a small bowl and stir vigorously. Serve over oysters or clams.
You can prepare this sauce right before you’re ready to enjoy it or in advance. Generally, it’s preferred to make it ahead of time. The extra time allows the flavors to meld together. The vinegar will become infused with the shallots and peppers, deepening the flavor profile. Keep it stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before serving. Before you’re ready to eat, give it a quick stir to redistribute the ingredients.
If you don’t have shallots on hand, sweet onions are an excellent alternative. Replace black pepper with white pepper for a milder flavor. Out of red wine vinegar? No problem. Champagne vinegar, white wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar are fantastic substitutes. Your dressing will stand out with these subtle swaps.
The best part of cooking is that there are no hard and fast rules. Use this classic recipe as a baseline and add anything to make it your own. If you want to keep things simple, add a squeeze of lemon to the original recipe for a tart kick. A pinch of granulated or brown sugar brings a touch of sweetness. Incorporate soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil for an international flair. If you like it spicy, add a dash of cayenne pepper or hot sauce. Some interpretations of mignonette sauce even include chopped jalapeño peppers. Get creative and add in finely chopped celery or cucumbers. Honey, oranges or beets are inventive and delicious additions. Chopped apples and cucumbers are unconventional but popular mix-ins.
When adding in extra solids, like chopped fruits and vegetables, you have two options. You can choose to leave the additions intact, creating a chunky texture. If you don’t like the idea of chewing your sauce, filter the liquid through a sieve. When straining, be sure to make it a couple of days in advance so the fluid can soak up all the flavors.
History of the Word Mignonette
French is a notoriously difficult language to understand. It’s no wonder people often have trouble pronouncing the word “mignonette.” Even those familiar with the language may do a double-take. The term “mignonette,” in one sense, truly has nothing to do with condiments.
The word derives from the French “mignon,” which means dainty or darling. Modern vernacular often use the word to say “cute.” Adding “ette” to the word means “cute little one.” Many use the word mignonette as a pet name or term of endearment. For example, “How are you today, my little mignonette?” The pet name is so popular that the French sometimes use it as a baby name.
Though it’s a popular pet name, that wasn’t the word's original meaning. “Mignonette” was first used to describe a type of tall, flowering herbs native to Europe. The term later evolved to have the second meaning of “a sachet of herbs.” The French used these small bags containing herbs to flavor sauces. It’s not hard to imagine how “mignonette” made the jump from a sauce flavoring device to an actual sauce. In the late 1700s, the French first used the word to describe a sauce with vinegar, pepper, and herbs. Today, they often use “mignonette” to say “cracked black pepper.”
The meaning may have evolved over the years, but the pronunciation remained the same. The simplest way to learn a French word’s pronunciation is to refer to phonetic spelling. In this case, you pronounce the word as “min-yuh-net.” In French, it’s common to only pronounce a few letters in a word. The French language is always surprising. They have six different ways to pronounce the letter “g”! Here, the “g” takes on a nasally sound that’s surprising to most English speakers.
Many may be turned off by the word’s complex French origin and difficult pronunciation. Fancy French terms in the kitchen often scare off home cooks. However, this condiment isn’t just for world-class chefs! Despite its fancy-sounding name, this sauce is quite simple to make. The mignonette sauce is simple, delicious and will make any oyster prime for slurping.