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Jan 13, 2010 02:15 PM

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?

            11 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."

              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."

                          1. re: Davwud

                            Sorry, but you are not completely correct Davwud.
                            The following is the authentic story; not some made up by a millionaire with the ability to spread his own glory story.
                            Here's the word, including the TRUE back story:

                            The history of Thousand Island Dressing dates back to the early days of the 20th century and centers in the small resort village of Clayton, New York. A fishing guide named George LaLonde, Jr. guided visiting fishermen for Black Bass and Northern Pike through the waters of the 1000 Islands. After a day of fishing, he and his wife, Sophia LaLonde, would serve what they called “shore dinners” with a different and unusual salad dressing. The following story on the origin of Thousand Island Dressing was given to me by Allen and Susan Benas, owners of the Thousand Islands Inn:

                            “On one particular occasion, George LaLonde, Jr., was guiding a very prominent New York City stage actress named May Irwin and her husband. May Irwin, a renowned cook and cookbook authoress in her own right, was particularly impressed with the dressing and asked George for the recipe. Sophia La Londe, who created the dressing, was flattered by the request and willingly gave her the recipe. Sophia also had given the recipe to Ella Bertrand, who’s family owned the Herald Hotel, one of the most popular hotels in Clayton. May Irwin and her husband had stayed at the Herald Hotel during their early vacations in the island and had already tasted the dressing. It was May Irwin who gave it the name Thousand Island and it was Ella Bertrand who first served it to the dining public.

                            Upon her return to New York City, May Irwin gave the recipe to fellow 1000 Islands’ summer visitor, George C. Boldt, who was owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. Equally impressed with the dressing and its flavor. Mr. Boldt directed his world famous maitre di, Oscar Tschirky, to put the dressing on the hotel’s menu. In doing so, Oscar Tschirky earned credit for introducing the dressing to the world.”

                            In 1972, Allen and Susan Benas purchased the Herald Hotel and changed its name to the Thousand Islands Inn. Needless to say, Thousand Island Dressing is the “official” house dressing at the inn. The Benas now bottle and sell the dressing at the inn and on the internet.


                    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