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Russian vs. Thousand Island dressing [moved from Home Cooking]

Is there a difference between Russian dressing and Thousand Island dressing, and if so, what is it? Which one is properly associated with the classic Reuben sandwich?

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  1. The Reuben sandwich is traditionally served with Russian Dressing.

    Russian dressing is made with a milk fat based foundation of either mayonnaise or yogurt (sometimes sour cream) but most authentically yogurt. It sometimes include horseradish and a variety of spices. Historically, Russian dressing included an aspic or gelatin to
    create a velvety consistency.

    Thousand Island dressing is very much like Russian dressing, but it is prepared with mayonnaise and ketchup with the addition of small bits and pieces of pickles, peppers and onions.

    Both are subject to individualization so whatever you might like to add to the base ingredients of a milk fat/oil based foundation is perfectly acceptable. Truth is, if you used Thousand Island dressing on a Reuben you probably wouldn't be accused of heracy.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      i use ken's russian dressing for my reubens!

    2. Russian is the original one, and the classic condiment for a Reuben.

      Thousand Island is a variation - the biggest difference as far as i know is the addition of sweet pickle relish, and sometimes chopped olives and/or hard-boiled egg to Thousand Island.

      i think the original Russian dressing was made with yogurt, though all the recipes you'll find these days call for mayo.

      1. Classic Russian dressing is made with sour cream, a tomato product and caviar, with some pungency, possibly from horseradish. It's thought to have originated in the 1880's-1900.
        Thousand Island is usually mayonaise based, with (what I've seen variously) ketchup, relish, pickles, onions or chopped hard boiled eggs (the islands) added. It's a variant of Russian dressing. There's conflicting stories about it's origin, most of them originating from upstate NY.
        Either dressing is used on the Reuben now but Russian was the original classic.
        It's become difficult to distinguish between the two dressings these days.

        2 Replies
        1. re: bushwickgirl

          ....and bushwick girl slides into home! ;-).

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            Could I sign up somewhere to have the classic Russian on my salads say once or twice a week? Sounds wonderful.

          2. I would go slightly further than those above and say that Russian by definition includes horseradish, while 1000 Island does not necessarily. The presence of horseradish is a sine qua non for an authentic Reuben, since it is the source of "bitter" in the sandwich, which IMO is so good because it incorporates so well all 5 tastes (lots of umami).

            I wonder if the name 1000 Island is because the bits of relish make it "resemble" the actual 1000 Islands?

            10 Replies
            1. re: johnb

              good question about the origin of "thousand island"....

              here's a plausible answer: "Although national sales figures rank it as one of the most popular dressings with consumers, many people do not associate it with the popular upstate New York resort area, while many others don't even associate it with any actual geographic locale. In reality, it is the only salad dressing named for any region of the entire United States." http://www.1000islands.com/inn/dressi...

              1. re: alkapal

                I always thought that "thousand island" referred to the bits of picalilli in the dressing.

                1. re: alkapal

                  The TI (Thousand Island) Inn in Clayton truly lays claim to the dressings origin. It is a local and long lived restaurant and inn (not fancy but comfy and popular).

                  1. re: feelinpeckish

                    Incorrect sir.

                    The owner of the Waldorf Astoria years and years ago had a summer home in the 1000 islands area. He had his chef create a signature salad dressing for an important luncheon one day. Voila, the 1000 Island Dressing was born.
                    It was soon to be featured on the menu at the WA.


                    1. re: Davwud

                      Not quite.

                      George Boldt (the owner you refer to) is credited with popularizing the dressing, at the hotel not at his place in the islands, but seemingly neither he nor his chef (at the hotel or the summer place) was involved in its creation. It was most likely invented in New Orleans, and appears to have been well entrenched there under the 1000 island name before it came to Boldt's attention.

                      1. re: johnb

                        I'm simply recounting the story they told at Bolt Castle. It was long before I was born so I can't really attest one way or the other.

                        Edit: Here is a slight variant of that story.


                        1. re: Davwud

                          And it's a nice story. But as in so many such stories told to the tourists, cold hard facts don't bear it out. But what the heck--life goes on and does it really matter to most people anyway? Almost certainly not.

                          But to the historically-obsessed (i.e. picky picky ones) it's fun to get at what really happened. In this case, I wonder, if it really was invented in New Orleans, why was it called 1000 island dressing? Now the answer to that might really be interesting. Maybe the guy who mixed it up down there was from upstate NY?

                          1. re: johnb

                            I suppose it was just something that people made before the Bolt Castle story . Bolt himself seems to have taken a liking to it and through the hotel made it famous and named it.


                            1. re: johnb

                              My wife's Grandfather, a widower, married the Granddaughter Of Geoge C. Boldt, he of the castle and Waldorf-Astoria fame. Their summer home, originally George and his wife Louisa, was named Hopewell Hall. When we'd visit them each summer, our bedroom overlooked Pullman Island, named for the man who developed the famous railroad car. Across the river is the town of Alexandria Bay. It was here, George's chef Oscar Tcherky(spelling), came up with 2 specialty dishes, one, Thousand Island Dressing and two, a salad combining apples and raisins, known as Waldorf Salad.
                              George was a hotelier, who migrated from Germany to Texas, then onto Philadelphia and then New York. John Astor perished in the sinking of The Titanic. The only myth is that George C. was building the castle for Louisa, and that during construction, Louisa died. Work was halted on the castle and George C. died of a broken heart. Lovely story, as told by my wife's step-Grandmother in her book that's sold at the castle, 'Boldt Castle..A Love Story'. Fact is, Louisa ran off with one of the contruction workers. On our wedding day in 1968, my wife wore Louisa's tiara in her hair.

                        2. re: Davwud

                          Thousand Island Dressing evolved independently in thousands of home kitchens where the time-stressed cook had access to the no-brainers of mayo, ketchup, pickle relish, and added accents of chopped boiled eggs, capers, horseradish, etc.

                          I will attest to this, even under polygraph. When Dad set it down next to the iceberg salad, I asked why it was named that way. He said "because the eggs and the pickles are floating like islands in the deep pink sea."

                  2. Boy, did I ever have a different idea!

                    When I was growing up, we had Russian salad dressing made by a major salad dressing manufactuer (Wishbone?). It was a deeper red than French dressing and cloyingly sweet, much sweeter than French dressing. It was smooth, rather thin, and had no bits or pieces in it at all.

                    Anyway, since I was a kid, I've avoided the stuff. I'll have to give it a try or make my own. It sounds good!

                    15 Replies
                    1. re: gfr1111

                      I looked for a basic recipe for you but all that I found were variations of what I consider to be Thousand Island.

                      So wing it, Russian Tea Room-style, with this adaptation of their recipe: a yogurt-sour cream combo, horseradish, chili sauce, minced onion, minced parsley, minced dill pickle, minced green pepper and lemon juice as the vinegar stand-in. Season with salt, pepper, sugar, Worcestershire and Tabasco sauce. As I mentioned in my post upthread, caviar was rumored to be an ingredient back in the day, but I would hesitate adding caviar to anything with pickles.

                      I worked in a restaurant years ago where we added poppy seeds to the sour cream-mayo based Russian dressing to simulate the caviar.

                      Whe you mentioned your dressing, I thought of Catalina, which is as you described, deeper red than bottled French and cloyingly sweet. I wonder if Kraft originally called it Russian, or changed the name from Catalina to Russian later on, but I remember it as Catalina from the early 60's. Perhaps you are thinking of this product.

                      Kraft describes Catalina as "a red French dressing."

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Well, that's what I thought but my memory of the 60's ain't what it used to be.
                          Catalina was always Catalina, case closed.

                          1. re: bushwickgirl

                            Thank you, Alkapal and Bushwickgirl. I'm going to give your recipes a try. They sound delicious.

                            You're right that Catalina is what I recalled as Russian. It seems to me that it used to be called "Russian" dressing and then Kraft started calling it "Catalina," but now I am doubting myself. Maybe what I described was always called "Catalina" and I just mixed it up in my mind. Like you said, Bushwickgirl, the 1960s was a long time ago and my memory may be growing dim. Anyway, thanks for the recipes.

                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                              That's OK. As we all know, if you can remember the 60's, you weren't there. :)

                          2. re: bushwickgirl

                            Could you make this with fat-free yogurt (like a Greek style) and no sour cream? This could be the answer to my search for a fat free salad dressing!

                            1. re: roxlet

                              Yup, I don't see why not, especially with a Greek style yogurt.

                              I'm sure you know Katz's Deli; I saw an older episode of Man vs Food the other day and a beautiful looking Russian Dressing was being used on the Reubens.

                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                Yes, I know Katz's but haven't been there in about 100 years or so.,,

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  Yes, it's been around about that long, IIRC. It's been about 20 years for me. Those Reubens looked great.

                                  Did you attempt the dressing?

                              2. re: roxlet

                                Of course you could. The question is what result would you get. Only one way to find out. Try it, and report.

                            2. re: gfr1111

                              gfr, i'm with bushwick girl in my thoughts on the "Russian" dressing you knew as a child. what you described is the dressing i know as Catalina.

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                I think I've seen darker red Russian dressing in the supermarkets in recent years. I also have had Catalina and am not sure how much difference there is/was. To throw another shoe into the works, who remembers Milani's 1890 French Dressing? That one was also a very dark red and may or may not have been the same as the red Russian dressing.

                                My mother's version of Russian dressing (also used as shrimp cocktail sauce) was Miracle Whip (or mayo plus a little sugar), horseradish, and chili sauce. I still make it, and don't worry about what to call it.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I do rememer Milani's. I liked it; dark red and sweet/tart, but mostly tart.

                                  My grandmother's Russian dressing was mayonnaise and ketchup.

                                  1. re: Sinicle

                                    My mom's Russian dressing was miracle whip, ketchup, and pickle relish. It was delicious on iceberg lettuce.

                                  2. re: greygarious

                                    That recipe for Russian Dressing sounds great, could I please get it from you?

                                    Thanks! acewex @ gmail . com

                              2. im in western canada ,and the reubs ive tried all have 1000 isle.russian dressing heer is very dark red and tastes alot different .id have to make my own reub with a russian dressing to have an opinion ,dosent exist hear.

                                1. i thought about this thread when sara moulton just made "russian dressing" for a sandwich by mixing chili sauce and mayo, then chopped pickle. no complexity there!

                                  1. In Sweden, I believe, Thousand Island Dressing is called "Rhode Island Dressing". Inexplicable.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: dagwood

                                      That is inexplicable, um, Rhode Island has what, one island off it's coast?

                                      1. re: bushwickgirl

                                        And Salsa Golf in much of South America, no? For why?

                                      2. re: dagwood

                                        Not entirely true. Rhode Island dressing was invented in Sweden. It used to have few ingredients, but has varied quite a bit. Nowadays though, store-bought Rhode Island dressing is usually the same thing as Thousand Island dressing without the bits (pickles, onions, peppers) resulting in a smooth texture.

                                      3. I happened to have mixed up samples of "easy" Russian and Thousand Island dressings yesterday, picking two recipes from the dozens I found on the web. Both called for chili sauce, biggest difference was horseradish for the Russian and pickle relish for the T.I. Both tasted quite similar to each other and not quite as piquant as the Ken's dressings I used as control samples. I guess I'll have to try the more complicated recipes for a closer match.

                                        1. And the best use of Russian Dressing is on the NJ Sloppy Joe Sandwich..


                                          8 Replies
                                          1. re: jfood

                                            If we're talking Russian Dressing in a sloppy joe context, head over to the Millburn Deli. Town Hall coleslaw is very grassy; the creamier coleslaw at the Millburn Deli marries much better with the Russian Dressing.

                                            1. re: johnlockedema

                                              Thanks J. M&M jfood are >20 veterans of Millburn Deli. jfood liked Tabatcik's SJ better and then there were Kartzmann's in Union and Goodman's in Elizabeth that were the best of all. jfood has been bringing Don;s Dogs back to CT recently and his friends are now converts that these are the "Best" dogs around.

                                              When friends visit they bring some SJs from Millburn Deli and some bagels from Marty. Hard to believe 50 miles north they are clueless to these delicasies.

                                              1. re: jfood

                                                I never found any of the other sloppy joe's that had rye bread sliced as thin as Town Hall and Millburn; and I can't stand the coleslaw at Town Hall, so my go to has always been Millburn. My family predates the Millburn Deli in Millburn/SH by sixty years!

                                                1. re: johnlockedema

                                                  jfood only used TH for the photo, not as a reco, sorry for the confusion. And yes the MD does use a meat slicer to get their bread extremely thin and jfood loves that thinness as well. But did you ever try Goodman's or Kartzmann's? their corned beef, pastrami, tongue, brisket, et. al. blew away that served at MD.

                                                  1. re: jfood

                                                    I don't doubt those meats were better-the Millburn Deli was/is a German rather than Jewish deli. However, with instore roast beef and roasted turkey (they used to pull the turkey carcass out from the undercounter fridge and hand carve it), incomparable tuna, egg, and ham salads-it's a different experience.

                                                    1. re: johnlockedema


                                                      1 - Goodman's used to hand carve the turkey and then re-assemble onto the carcass as well, so gotta have a draw there. :-))
                                                      2 - They roasted their own roast beef as well...double-draw :-)) :-))

                                                      MD did introduce jfood to the Saturday special and he thanks them for that combo and one of jfood's friends always brings one along so he can have a taste but not take up precious room on the plate for the SJ. Now if jfood remembers they also sliced their tomatoes on the meat slicer as well (it could have been another deli somewhere but jfood thinks it was MD) and those see-through slices, whereever it was, was not a good thing.

                                                      Now ham salad? that is the rich man's head cheese, abomination on bread, blech, double blech. jfood having a hard time typing with his hands shaking, OMG please do not use ham salad in the same post as a SJ. worse than saying brueggers and marty's in the same paragraph.

                                                      1. re: jfood

                                                        Hey, a good ham salad is a thing of beauty! The only problem is they don't have it all year, they bring it back around the holidays. On the Elizabeth delis I had them once or twice by families that moved here from Elizabeth and would go back for visits.

                                                        I'm sure most of us would say the sloppy joe you grew up with is your favorite, but in a pinch just about all of them are good-even the Short Hills Kings has them premade, but those fail.

                                              2. re: johnlockedema

                                                Forget the Millburn Deli. The best NJ Sloppy Joe was made by the Short Hills deli on Millburn Ave near the intersection with Short Hills Ave. It was near the high school, and it was a tiny little deli. Not fancy...but they were the best. They used large sliced rye and cut it in three parts -- the middle was a triangle and that bite of the tip of the triangle might have been the most perfect sandwich bite ever.

                                                Sadly, the placed closed, and the business went to the still good, but inferior Millburn Deli. I never went to Town Hall. Eppes Essen on Mt. Pleasant in Livingston was always decent for Russian Dressing, but their sandwiches were never that great.

                                            2. I thought the difference was that Russian dressing has beets to give it that red color, and Thousand Island has ketchup, or at least tomatoes. Personally, I can't stand Russian dressing because I hate beets. In my opinion TI is much better for Reubens/Rachels.

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                There are no beets in Russian Dressing. The red color comes from a tomato product. So now you can consume Russian Dressing without hate.

                                                1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                  I've consumed things claiming to be Russian Dressing that contained beets. In fact, those were the only times I've had Russian Dressing that it wasn't just Thousand Island by another name.

                                                  1. re: aynrandgirl

                                                    The two classic dressings are really quite different, with different ingredients and histories, although the names and the uses have been blurred by delis and diners over the last few decades. I don't think the average joe on the street could delineate the difference between the two dressings now. Sad.

                                                    I have never seen/come across/made a Russian dressing with beets. I would say that if the dressing you consumed had beets in it, and I don't doubt your word, it was most likely someone's imaginative concoction, based on the sentiment that Russians eat lots of beets and the beet base would add the obligatory red color. Russian and Thousand Island dressing recipes are a dime a dozen, every chef has their own. You can rest assured that you will not find beets in Russian dressing as a general rule.

                                                    1. re: bushwickgirl

                                                      I had to take up the challenge. I did a Google search. Here is a link to a Russian Dressing recipe with beets. I think I have seen others, but I checked through my files of personal favorite Russian Dressing recipes we've made at home, couldn't find any. I cannot vouch for the following recipe, but it may be of interest:


                                                      1. re: Florida Hound

                                                        Thanks for the link, interesting, but that's not authentic Russian Dressing in any sense, and sweet pickle relish?? Woof. Many Russian dressing recipes I've seen contain pickle relish, but that's the blurred line between Russian and Thousand Island talking, imo. Chopped dills are cool, though.

                                                        I stand by my post that a beet-based recipe is someone's imaginative concoction, probably based on the sentiment that Russians eat lots of beets and the beets would add the obligatory red color. However, to each his or her own.;)

                                                        Here's a fun link outlining a recent history and evolution of Russian Dressing, no mention of beets:


                                                      2. re: bushwickgirl

                                                        Ashkenaz Deli in Chicago prides itself on being an authentic Jewish-style deli and swears that the true, original way to make Russian dressing is with beets, hard-cooked eggs, and other things I can't even remember. http://www.ashkenazdeli.com/ It is delicious.

                                                        Any thoughts on that?

                                                        1. re: Chow8791

                                                          Nah, never been to Chicago. Nice menu though, and the prices are really good, compared to NYC's delis.

                                                          As far as authenticity, people can swear to and do anything they feel is that. I'm cool with it. If beets are thought to be an authentic ingredient, then add them. My research on this subject tells me otherwise, but I didn't grow up in Eastern Europe.

                                                          I like beets and wouldn't object to finding them in my Russian dressing.

                                                      3. re: aynrandgirl

                                                        Russian Dressing......1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup chopped pickled red beets, 1 chopped red beet pickled egg, 1 tablespoon horseradish, pickled beet juice to thin to desired consistancy...salt and pepper to taste. Yummmmm. A more substantial dressing than most might expect.

                                                  2. OK, to summarize... most of the stuff that is marketed as Russian Dressing bears little or no resemblance to the murky origins of Russian Dressing, which most likely included yogurt or a substitute dairy product. But not cottage cheese. And definitely not mayonnaise, unless you are in Italy. Russian Dressing often contains horseradish, except for the kind most people buy in the supermarket, which is really closer to a sweet french dressing with red in it. Red what? Who knows, who cares. OK, lots of you care, but since its really not Russian dressing it isn't important. Russian like dressing, but not the real kind, is also known as Catalina. Of course northern California used to be part of Russia, almost. But Catalina was never in northern California. Russian dressing is very popular in deli's in the north/mid atlantic states. It is used in Ruben or Rachel sandwiches, but that is another excruciatingly long thread that I'm not even gonna link to. Sandwiches have nothing to do with Catalina. Catalina of course being one Island, not 1000 islands.

                                                    Thousand Island dressing is kinda like what people imagine Russian dressing to be like, except not like t he kind they buy. Its what grandma used to make during the depression when she took some stuff out of the cupboard and threw it together and wanted people to think it was something special. It has pickle relish instead of horseradish. Most of the time. Some people like to float eggs in their salad dressing and that makes it Thousand Island. Thats an awful lot of eggs, and i've never seen eggs floating in the bottles in the store, how would they get them in there? Thousand Island does have mayonnaise. And it is pink. A most unusual shade of pink, almost a salmon.

                                                    Lots of people have stories about thousand island dressing. None of them are true, but lots of people believe them. Lots of people have stories about Green Goddess dressing too. No one knows the truth. Green Goddess did come from a hotel in San Francisco, but no one knows which hotel, although at least two or three claim to be the home of the original. San Francisco is in northern California. But the Russians were gone by then, so that isn't Russian, Catalina, or Thousand Island. It does have mayonnaise in it, but it isn't pink or red. Its green.

                                                    And finally, why is it Thosuand Island, not Thousand Islands? Must be something to do with it's immigrant ancestry, problems with subject verb agreement.

                                                    I hope this made everything clear to everyone.

                                                    3 Replies
                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      "And finally, why is it Thosuand Island, not Thousand Islands?"

                                                      Let jfood add a third choice Thousand Island. Good Morning sunshine. Typing at 1AM can be hazardous to your health and typing. Here's another question, did anyone ever count them or is it a single island named after some guy named Tony Thousand?

                                                      Happy Fourth KM. :-))

                                                      1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                        the green goddess thread discussed which hotel, and the historical facts. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/2923...

                                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                          Although sour cream/yogurt/other dairy seem like a popular addition for many folks, I’ve only heard of Russian dressing based on Mayonnaise with absolutely no dairy products of any kind.
                                                          For the simple reason that kosher foods cannot contain both meat and dairy. Jewish delis use Russian dressing because it adds creaminess without adding any dairy. This is also the reason you will not find a Reuben on the menu – it has Swiss Cheese, a kosher no-no.

                                                        2. Russian dressing: 1/2 cup of mayo with a tablespoon of ketchup, a teaspoon of grated onion, 1/2 teaspoon of horseradish, 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, and 1 tablespoon of parsley.