Ranch, Blue Cheese, Thousand Island. Three dressings that have been ubiquitous on the American Dinner Table for decades. Of course, being American, these dressings have been adapted to serve other purposes than just coating lettuce. They are used for dipping vegetables, marinating, as a sandwich ingredient, and for mitigating the heat of Buffalo Wings.
Each one of these has an origin story that shows off, even in some small way, American ingenuity, taste, and not a little desperation.
Ranch Dressing was created on the true-life Hidden Valley Ranch (a dude ranch) near Santa Barbara, CA. The originator, Steve Henson, was said to have come up with the original recipe while working as an electrical contractor in Alaska. When he and his wife opened their dude ranch in the early 1950’s, they served the dressing to guests and it became a hit. They began selling kits to guests to take home and make their own dressing (just add buttermilk). The Hensons managed to build a small empire on their dressing, eventually selling their company to Clorox in the early 1970’s (the company still owns the brand).
Thousand Island Dressing has a slightly more murky history. One story is that Oscar (Oscar of the Waldorf) Tschirky introduced the dressing to patrons of the Waldorf Hotel in New York via his boss, George Boldt, who was served the dressing while on a boat tour in the Thousand Islands in upstate New York. It was said the chef on board basically threw together a salad dressing with whatever he had on hand, and it became a hit. Another story, probably the more likely one, is that Sophia LaLonde, the wife of the fishing guide at the Herald House on the Thousand Islands, came up with the recipe in or around 1911 to serve at the hotel and shore dinners there. The Broadway actress May Irwin enjoyed the dressing so much she asked for the recipe. Mrs. LaLonde obliged, and Ms. Irwin took it back to New York and gave the recipe to Mr. Boldt so the kitchen could prepare it for her. Once the Waldorf began offering the dressing to its patrons, the dressing became popular throughout the country. The Holiday House Hotel in the Thousand Islands still sells the original recipe dressing at the hotel and online.
Blue Cheese Dressing has a very murky origin story. It has been suggested that it originated in France, but that’s highly unlikely. The French prefer lighter vinaigrette-style dressing on their salad; it’s doubtful that putting cheese in their salads would even occur to the French. Blue cheese has been in America since at least the Revolution where that well-noted Francophile, Thomas Jefferson, enjoyed it at his dinner table. The first recorded evidence of Blue Cheese Dressing as we’ve come to know it (Then known as Roquefort Dressing) was in Edgewater Hotel Salad Book in 1928. An earlier version of the dressing appears in the Fannie Farmer’s 1918 Cookbook. By the 1930’s the dressing had spread in popularity not only through Fannie Farmer, but also through Irma Rombauer’s ubiquitous book, The Joy of Cooking.
(some historical information from wikipedia.org, justserved.onthetable.us, thousandislandslife.com)
A few notes:
1. All three of these recipes can easily be made vegan.
For the Ranch: Omit the sour cream; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk.
For the Blue Cheese: Omit the sour cream and cheese; substitute vegan mayonnaise and plain soy milk; use crumbled hard
tofu to get the texture of the cheese; add tahini and apple cider vinegar (start with just a small
amount and add to taste). If you have some nutritional yeast, you can also use that for additional cheesy flavor.
For the Thousand Island: Substitute the mayonnaise for vegan mayonnaise.
2. If you can find it (and it’s getting easier to), use “country style” buttermilk. The flavor and thickness make so much difference in the finished dressing.
3. If you must use dried herbs in the Ranch Dressing, use 1/2 the amount of the fresh in the recipe. The dressing will need to sit for an hour for the herbs to infuse their flavor.
4. For the Blue Cheese Dressing, I used Amish Blue. I have used gorgonzola, roquefort, and Stilton in the past. Extravagant, but delicious. You can use any type of blue cheese you like – as your cheese department and budget will allow.
5. For the Thousand Island, I usually add more than 1 teaspoon of horseradish depending on what I’ll use it for (i.e. Reubens). So, adjust according to your taste.
6. You can substitute low-fat yogurt for some or all of the sour cream. If you must.
7. All of these dressings will last up to a week. If they begin to separate, just give them a stir. The Blue Cheese Dressing, will, however, thin out considerably as it sits. Just add more mayonnaise and sour cream to thicken.
Now, I will say, these are my versions of these dressings (and, no doubt, many others have made these same adjustments). You can certainly add, subtract, and/or change ingredients. For example, the original Thousand Island Dressing uses finely chopped egg in the recipe; I don’t. The original Ranch Dressing is made with buttermilk only; I’ve added mayonnaise. I’ve added lemon juice to the Blue Cheese Dressing. I, like many, have also added bacon from time to time (it’s excellent on burgers when you feel like indulging).
Sometimes, I like to go all ’70’s and use an Iceberg wedge when I serve any of these dressings. A dear, late friend of mine, Chef Roger Mollett, used to say, “Iceberg is the polyester of lettuce”. He’s right, you know.
Uniquely American. From top clockwise: Thousand Island, Blue Cheese, Ranch
All of these dressings are made the same way:
1. Add the ingredients into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
2. Let sit for at least an hour, taste and adjust for seasoning.
3. Serve with salad or other food of your choice.
Salt, Pepper, Garlic
1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. sour cream
1/4 c. buttermilk
1 clove garlic, very finely minced
1 tbsp. chives or scallion tops, very thinly sliced
If you don’t have chives, thinly sliced scallion tops work as well.
2 tbsp. dill, finely minced
Fresh dill is what really makes this dressing so delicious.
1/4 c. parsley, finely minced
You can use either curly or flat-leaf parsley.
1 tsp. lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Everything in the bowl.
Mixing. The buttermilk will be stubborn and not want to incorporate at first. But, trust me, it all comes together.
Not pretty. But it’s damn indulgent.
Blue Cheese Dressing
1 c. mayonnaise
1/2 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. blue cheese, crumbled
I used Amish Blue for this example. You can use any blue cheese you like.
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. black pepper
Buttermilk, as needed
Mixing in the blue cheese. It’s a lot.
If you have to crumble your blue cheese (as opposed to buying it already crumbled), leave the pieces different sizes. It makes for a more interesting texture.
Mixing in the pepper and lemon juice.
Thousand Island Dressing
1 c. mayonnaise
1/4 c. ketchup
1 tbsp. onion, very finely minced
1 1/2 tbsp. sweet relish
1 1/2 tbsp. dill relish
1 tsp. horseradish
From top right, clockwise: minced onion (I had some scallion, so I used that), dill relish, sweet relish, horseradish, pepper, salt
1 tsp. lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste
The best way to test a dressing – any dressing – is to use some of the greens you’ll be serving it with to better gauge the flavors and how they taste together.
Testing the Thousand Island Dressing.
Plus, as well know, when you’re adjusting recipes standing up in the kitchen, the calories don’t count. Plus, hey, it’s lettuce.