Fact: Homemade salad dressings are better. They are fresh, lively, and easy to customize. This is especially true when it comes to the oft-maligned classic, Thousand Island dressing — yes, I mean that pink dressing on the salad bar in the giant squeeze bottle.
The homemade version of this dressing’s got a few neat tricks up its sleeve — including a hard-boiled egg used as a thickener. The alchemy transforms the dressing into a tamer of the bitterest of greens; it's also a frequent partner for crisp iceberg lettuce, and the true identity behind the Big Mac's special sauce.
What Is Thousand Island Dressing?
Thousand Island dressing is made with mayonnaise and ketchup (or some other sweetened tomato condiment), thickened with a hard-boiled egg pressed through a sieve, and enlivened with vinegar and sweet pickle relish.
Thickening Your Dressing with a Hard-Cooked egg
Pushing a hard-cooked egg through a fine-mesh sieve isn’t something you come across often in a recipe nowadays, but it wasn’t uncommon as a thickener when Thousand Island dressing was invented.
As a technique, very finely mashing, sieving, or grating a hard-boiled egg works very well, adding not just taste, but also texture and depth not usually associated with salad dressing. It’s the backbone, like mustard in a vinaigrette.
It makes sense if you think about it: Tuna fish salad, a mid-century favorite, becomes creamy with some well-mashed or sieved egg yolks; homespun recipes from the same era showcase egg yolks to thicken gravies. Eggs moved from elegant to everyday in about 50 years and by the 1970s, even deviled eggs fell out of favor and were considered dated and old. This is when Thousand Island recipes began to change and suffer.
The History of an American Dressing
Thousand Island dressing has an overabundance of origin stories. It was invented in the resorts in the Thousand Island area of the most northern reaches of New York state and southern Ontario, Canada, just after the turn of the 20th century.
Russian dressing, Thousand Island dressing's horseradish- and paprika-flecked cousin, has origins that are just as murky. It seems this dressing may have included caviar as an ingredient — hence the Russian moniker. As we know it, it was invented in the resorts of New Hampshire around the same time Thousand Island debuted. Both were thought of as upscale food, served with fresh greens, reserved for those privileged to “summer” away from the heat and masses of urban areas. Oddly, over time, Russian dressing was adopted by New York’s urban delis while the Thousand Island graced fine steakhouses.
Despite its origin as a sauce for the fanciest, Thousand Island dressing devolved through the 1970s into mass-market production, becoming the oft-maligned dressing that sits across from the cottage cheese in large squeeze bottles at salad bars and atop a Big Mac. Yup, it’s pretty much the special sauce!
Demoted by years of packaged preservatives and pommeled with artificial colors and flavors, Thousand Island dressing is a revelation when you make it yourself.
How To Make Classic Thousand Island Dressing
What You Need
1 1/2 cups prepared or homemade mayonnaise
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced or grated onion
3 to 4 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder or freshly ground black pepper
1 large hard-boiled egg, peeled
1 teaspoon minced pimientos or roasted red pepper, optional
1 teaspoon minced fresh chives, optional
Few drops of any Louisiana hot sauce, to taste, optional
- Mix the dressing: In a large mixing bowl, combine the mayonnaise, ketchup, cider vinegar, onion, relish, salt, and chili powder or pepper and mix until well-combined.
- Add the egg: Press the egg through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl and mix well.
- Customize the dressing: If you wish, add any combination of optional ingredients (pimientos, chives, and/or hot sauce) and mix well.
- Serve: This dressing can be served immediately, but tastes even better if refrigerated in a covered container for 12 to 24 hours. It will keep for about 4 days.