The Seafood Issue

Remoulade and Ravigote


Remoulade and ravigote sauces are French classics that changed dramatically after making the trip across the Atlantic to New Orleans. In France, remoulade is a cold mayonnaise-based sauce flavored with chopped pickles, capers, parsley, and often chervil and tarragon, finished with a bit of mustard. In the time before refrigeration, mayonnaise was a dangerous proposition in New Orleans’ tropical temperatures, as the required raw egg provided an ideal breeding ground for bacteria — sometimes resulting in deadly food poisoning. This is the reason the mayonnaise base was replaced with Creole mustard in the city’s oldest remoulade recipes.

By the early 20th century, commercially prepared mayonnaise virtually eliminated the possibility of food poisoning, and the creamy base did sneak back into some local versions of remoulade. By then, the spicy, bright-red, mayonnaise-free version of the sauce had become the New Orleans standard still served in old-line restaurants like Antoine’s and Galatoire’s today.

The key ingredient in New Orleans remoulade is Creole mustard. This coarse, stone-ground mustard is believed to have arrived in the Crescent City with early German settlers. Emile Zatarain was among the first to produce and sell Creole mustard commercially, and his original product remains the standard.

In France, mayonnaise is never an ingredient in ravigote sauce. Derived from the French word ravigoter, which translates to “refresh” or “reinvigorate,” its original use was as a dressing for cold meat. The original French ravigote — more of a vinaigrette — also incorporates capers, parsley, chervil and tarragon. In the hands of Creole chefs, our local version includes chopped capers, parsley and green onions folded into a mayonnaise base and used to dress boiled shrimp or lump crabmeat.

To add to the confusion, Galatoire’s Restaurant serves one of the only hot versions of ravigote to be found anywhere. Savvy diners know that the restaurant’s classic, cold, mayonnaise-based ravigote appears as the appetizer “Sauce Maison,” on the famed restaurant’s menu. The hot version combines béchamel and hollandaise sauces with lump crabmeat and green onions, and is served as an entrée.

So, remoulade or ravigote? No matter which version you choose, when you combine it with fresh, local Gulf seafood, you’re sure to have a winner.