Salad dressings are richer, thicker emulsions than the light mixtures of oil and vinegar we call vinaigrettes. Before the twentieth century, home cooks made salad dressings from scratch, and the results varied widely based on the availability of ingredients, changes of season and the adequacy of storage conditions. Restaurants and grocers gradually began to package and sell more consistent products, like New York City deli owner Richard Hellmann, who began to bottle and sell his wife’s mayonnaise to customers in 1915. The prepared salad dressing industry was born, and many of the best known dressings are now bottled commercially for consumption world wide.
While some trace the origins of chef’s salad to to salmagundi, an amalgamation of meat, fish, greens, fruits, nuts and vegetables popular in 17th century England and colonial America, others claim it was first created in the United States during the early 20th century. Although he may not have invented the dish, Louis Diat, chef of the Ritz-Carleton in New York City during the 1940s, is credited with popularizing it. In his book Cooking at the Ritz, Diat (who also invented vichyssoise for the hotel’s rooftop garden restaurant) offers a recipe for chef’s salad drizzled with what traditionally was called French dressing, a vinaigrette. But, although French himself, Diat added some decidedly unFrench ingredients: ketchup, paprika and (gasp!) a little sugar, a concoction that has come to be known as American French dressing.
The Gourmet Cookbook reports that Green Goddess dressing was created in honor of a melodrama of the same name written by the Scottish drama critic and playwright William Archer in 1920. It toured the United States starring the great British actor George Arliss and, during its run in San Francisco, Arliss stayed at the Palace Hotel. Philip Roemer, chef at the H0tel’s Palm Court Restaurant, created this creamy, green-hued dressing in his honor. Louis dressing originated on the West Coast during the same period (see shrimp Louis).
In theAmerican Century Cookbook, Jean Anderson notes two claimants to the invention of ranch dressing. David Bears of the Todds Food Company in Glendale, Arizona, says he created it in the 1980s as a dip for fried zucchini sticks served at Bobby McGee’s Restaurants. His competition is the Clorox Company of Oakland, California, which bought trademark rights to the Hidden Valley Ranch Original Ranch salad dressing mix in 1972. The Henson family, owners of Hidden Valley Ranch near Santa Barbara, say they developed the dry dressing mix shortly after World War II. It was marketed as a seasoning packet that contained, among other things, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, black pepper and dried parsley. The purchaser simply added mayonnaise and buttermilk.
Russian dressing, once a required condiment on a Reuben sandwich, is considerably spicier and less sweet that its close cousin, Thousand Island dressing. It is not Russian; James E. Colburn, owner of a wholesale groceries and meat business in Nashua, New Hampshire, invented the dressing in the 1910s and distributed it to retailers and hotels across the country. Some suggest he called it Russian dressing because it once contained caviar or pickles, some say it was because he designed it for a Russian inspired dish called Salad Oliver, and others claim that its name reflects the simple marketing fact that all things Russian were fashionable at the time.
Thousand Island is still another dressing that dates from the early twentieth century. This mayonnaise-based concoction, colored by chili sauce, was invented in Clayton, New York by Sophia LaLonde, whose husband was a fishing guide in the Thousand Islands area of the St. Lawrence River. It became popular first at the Clayton Herald Hotel, and later at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City (the Waldorf’s owner summered in the Thousand Islands). Some believe it to be the “secret sauce” that graces the Big Mac.
While many of these mixtures traditionally are served on a crisp wedge of iceberg lettuce, they also can be used as a dip for crudites, shrimp (shrimp cocktail with Green Goddess dressing) or chicken wings (Buffalo wings) or, yes, even as a dressing for hamburgers.