Salad Dressing

Olivia Wilde's 'Secret Salad Dressing' Is Nora Ephron’s Vinaigrette, As We Suspected

The back pocket salad dressing from Ephron’s 'Heartburn' is a keeper for a reason.

October 19, 2022
Photo by James Ransom

You might be wondering why the internet is buzzing about Olivia Wilde’s salad dressing, and that’s fair enough. The short answer is that Wilde, her boyfriend Harry Styles, and her ex-fiancé Jason Sudeikis (yes, the same actor who made Ted Lasso’s biscuits famous) are caught in a controversy over alleged text messages that their former nanny leaked to The Daily Mail. One of the texts refers to “a special salad dressing” that Wilde makes, which meant that for 24 to 48 hours, the internet was full of sleuthing darlings who were trying to figure out what kind of incredible vinaigrette could fuel so much drama. Not since the Nicolas Cage favorite pasta shape mystery had so many people become instant food detectives.

A few folks narrowed in on a recipe that Wilde contributed to the Food Network in 2020, which features a very simple red wine vinaigrette. When I saw that dressing—red wine vinegar, mustard, olive oil, and shallot—I knew it looked familiar. It was suspiciously similar to my own back pocket vinaigrette that I learned from Nora Ephron’s novel, Heartburn. So when Wilde posted a photo from Heartburn that describes the dressing recipe on her Instagram Stories, I felt wildly vindicated.

What’s so special about the Nora Ephron vinaigrette? The full recipe is this: “Mix 2 tablespoons Grey Poupon mustard with 2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar. Then, whisking constantly with a fork, slowly add 6 tablespoons olive oil until the vinaigrette is thick and creamy.”

That’s it. It’s nothing fancy but it is incredibly reliably good on all kinds of salads, and it’s so simple that you can easily memorize it. You can add in things if you’d like—chopped shallot, herbs—but you don’t have to. It stands up all by itself, and can even be drizzled over roast chicken or steak. It’s a classic for a reason. When I was dating in my 20s, if I liked someone, it was one of my go-to dressings to make for a date meal. The ingredients are so bare bones that almost everyone—even the whirling dervish bachelors of my youth—had the ingredients, and you’d be surprised how impressed my dates were by the simple task of whipping up a salad dressing from scratch without consulting a cookbook.

That salad dressing isn't Ephron’s only excellent recipe from Heartburn. The book has so many good tidbits woven throughout that it has become a staple for a generation of food writers—many of whom have written about Ephron for Food52. It’s a world worth digging into, if you’re so inclined. And even if you’re not, it’s worth giving that famous salad dressing a try.

What's your go-to salad dressing? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • pubcav
  • Eileen
  • Jo
  • Tricia Davis
    Tricia Davis
  • Daphne Nugent
    Daphne Nugent
Margaret Eby

Written by: Margaret Eby

Editorial Lead of Food, Food52


pubcav November 2, 2023
Am I missing something? The article says red wine vinegar but I googled Noble's Tonic No. 4 and it's white wine vinegar. Which should I use?
Eileen November 29, 2022
Recipes from non-cookbook sources!! I love it. I have a recipe for Molasses Salmon that I got from the TV show "Northern Exposure".
Here it is: Marinate the fresh salmon in a mixture of light soy sauce, juice of one lime, and a bit of molasses (to taste, for sweetness) and some fresh ground black pepper. Bake, grill, panfry or whatever. Enjoy!
Jo October 22, 2022
I use lemon juice more often than red vinegar it’s excellent. And I’ve used citrus vinegar whichever acid you love will work
Tricia D. October 21, 2022
I'm just happy to see the Nora Ephron Heartburn love. Rather than a favorite dressing recipe, I'd note that my favorite recipe from the book is the one for bread pudding. And I think of her every time I eat mashed potatoes by myself.
Daphne N. October 21, 2022
Nora Ephron / Olivia Wilde's recipe is simply the traditional vinaigrette that French people have been making for generations --with _wine_ vinegar, never balsamic. Of note: the way I learned to make vinaigrette in France is to very slowly add the vinegar/dijon mixture to the olive oil while vigorously whipping, not the other way around, as instructed above. Slowly adding small amounts of acid to the oil is what makes the vinaigrette emulsify.

Instead of using a sweet vinegar like balsamic (which is unheard of in traditional French cooking as an ingredient in a vinaigrette), try using a nice dry white wine vinegar.

Another great variant is to swap out traditional dijon with tarragon dijon. But avoid using grainy dijon, the grains don't dissolve properly.
missymaam October 20, 2022
Fig balsamic vinegar as the base. The olive oil. But in between those 2 things are a host of possibilities, shallots/garlic/herbs/spices/juices.
Lisle October 19, 2022
I mash garlic with salt, then add Balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Friends and family rave, it's become a thing.
Lisle November 3, 2023
Oh! I forgot to list a tsp of Dijon, as well! Sorry.
Karl October 19, 2022
Well, dissolve some salt into that vinegar before emulsifying: it's much better than adding salt after adding the oil, or to the ingredients to be dress themselves. Salad gets its name from salt for a reason.