If you were alive and eating solid foods in the 50s, 60s or even the 70s you probably remember hearts of lettuce salads with Thousand Island dressing. We needed a knife to carve our way into those crisp wedges of iceberg lettuce drenched in wonderful chunky pink dressing. This salad is either hopelessly old fashioned or mid-century chic, depending on your point of view.
Thousand Island dressing, named after the Thousand Island region of upstate New York, in the St Lawrence River along the border with Canada, has been around a long time. It was originally used as a sauce for fish, and because the area was popular with wealthy vacationers from big cities to the south, the story goes that it was discovered and put on the menu of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. This dressing would overwhelm the baby lettuces that we all love today, so you need to pair it with something sturdy like iceberg, romaine, or in this case a head of bibb lettuce cut in quarters.
To make Thousand Island Dressing you need to start with mayonnaise. You can use store bought mayo if you want, but I made mine from scratch. I’ve been wanting to try it for some time, but I’ve been scared off by the uncooked egg yolks that are essential to emulsifying the oil and lemon juice that makes mayonnaise. The other day I was over at Cooking Weekends and noticed Gerlinde was making homemade mayo with pasteurized eggs. I couldn’t find them at my regular store, so I did an Internet search and found Safest Choice eggs, and their site has a store locator, just type in your zip code. I was excited to find the eggs available at one of our local chains, and now I can feel better about making things that I’ve stayed away from, like hollandaise sauce, meringues, and lets not forget snacking on cookie dough!
This was intended as a minimal dish, but, fair warning, it turned out to be far from it. It took me three messy tries to make a successful batch of mayo. On the bright side, now that I know the secret, I can pass it on to you and nobody needs to go down that eggy oil spattered road again.
So my first two attempts ended with a pale yellow oily liquid. The third try yielded a thick glossy mayonnaise…the difference? Patience. You really do need to add the oil drop by drop right at the beginning, and then in a fine drizzle after that. Expect your drizzling arm to ache and your processor to start to overheat. It feels like forever while you’re doing it, but it really only takes 10 minutes or so. Keep going! The result is so worth it.
2 pasteurized egg yolks, room temperature
1/4 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil, do not use extra virgin olive oil which will solidify when refrigerated (I used Safflower)
- Put the 2 yolks in the bowl of your small food processor. Add the salt and lemon juice and start the machine.
- With the oil in a measuring cup with a spout, drizzle in just a little oil, several drops at a time, while the machine is going. Keep finely drizzling in a few drops every 10 or 15 seconds and give the yolks a chance to incorporate the oil. Keep drizzling as slowly as you can and eventually after a couple of minutes you will see the mayo become pale and start to thicken.
- Continue drizzling slowly until all the oil has been incorporated. Store the mayo in an airtight jar in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
Note: If you have a plastic squeeze bottle lying around that will make the slow drizzle a lot easier and less messy.
My Thousand Island recipe is slightly spicy, if you want a more basic version, just use the starred ingredients. I was unexpectedly out of chili sauce and so I substituted a little more ketchup and 1/2 tsp of red chili pepper flakes.
Thousand Island Dressing
*1 cup homemade mayonnaise (you can also use store bought)
*1 Tbsp chili sauce
*1 Tbsp ketchup
*1 heaping Tbsp white onion, finely minced
1 heaping Tbsp red bell pepper, finely minced
*1 heaping Tbsp relish (sweet or dill)
1 tsp horseradish
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Several squirts of Tabasco, to taste (use your favorite hot sauce)
1 tsp mustard
a pinch of celery seed
two pinches of paprika
*salt and fresh pepper to taste
- Mix all the ingredients together. Taste as you go to get the exact proportions the way you like them. Refrigerate the dressing until you are ready to use it. Make it ahead to give the flavors a chance to develop and mingle.
For the salad, take a nice tight head of bibb lettuce cut it in quarters. Cut out the core and put each wedge on a salad plate and spoon the Thousand Island dressing liberally on top. Garnish with lots of crumbled bacon.