Thousand Island Dressing has an odd name. What in the world does this mayonnaise based sickly-sweet drek have to do with islands – let alone a thousand of them? Well, it supposedly gets its name from the Thousand Islands region, which is a group of 1,864 small islands in the Saint Lawrence River, where it comes of Lake Ontario. These islands are situated along the Canada-US border and are seen for about 50 miles. The islands that are in the US are located in upstate New York, and the ones in Canada are in Ontario. The largest islands are over 40 miles but the smallest of them are nothing more than tiny outcroppings of rock.
The Story of Thousand Island Dressing – Most Common Version
The actual dressing was invented by a fishing guide from the small resort of Clayton in Northern New York named George LaLonde, Jr. It may also have been concocted by his wife, Sylvia LaLonde. In the early 1900’s, LaLonde was a fishing guide who took out small groups to fish in the 1000 Islands area. This most popular story of the dressing claims that on one of the trips a New York actress named Mary Irwin was along. LaLonde served a meal and used this mayonnaise-based dressing, similar to Russian dressing, on the salad. Mary Irwin was so impressed with the dressing that she brought the recipe back with her to New York City and gave it to George Boldt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, calling it “Thousand Island Dressing.” Boldt was impressed and began serving it in the dining room, on top of tossed salads. It became a big success and was associated with fine dining, a distinction the dressing does not enjoy today.
The hotel in Clayton where Mary Irwin stayed was the Herald Hotel. This is probably the place where Thousand Island Dressing was first served to the public, and the Herald Hotel is now called the Thousand Islands inn. It still serves a similar function, as a base camp for fishing expeditions, and guests can enjoy their fresh catch of pike or bass fried up for dinner along with, of course, a salad with Thousand Island Dressing. The hotel makes about 5000 bottles of the original recipe per year and the labels claim that it is the only salad dressing ever named for a region of the United States.
Another version of the dressings origin claims that it was first made by a chef at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, who was inspired to name it after the 1000 Islands area, which he had just visited. Yet a third theory for the name, if not the origin of the dressing, is that it was named for the bits and pieces of pickle and other ingredients, which resemble thousands of tiny islands in a sea of dressing.
What is Thousand Island Dressing?
As mentioned, Thousand Island Dressing is similar to Russian dressing, which is not Russian, by the way. Both are mayonnaise based and have ketchup. It is also similar to Louis dressing which uses mayonnaise, chili sauce, green onions and green peppers. Fancy pants cooks will tell you Thousands Island is based on a rémoulade, which is a mayonnaise or aioli based sauce with cornichons (gherkins), capers, herbs such as tarragon, and often mustard. In Louisiana, they may also contain horseradish, chopped onions, green onions, celery, and ketchup. It is also typically spiced with paprika and cayenne. Although a classic French remoulade was indeed used as a dressing for salads, really, there is not much similarity between a remoulade and Thousand Island Dressing besides the mayonnaise, and I doubt that the inventor had a fancy French sauce in mind when he or she first made it, although its possible. Some people call any mayonnaise-based sauce a remoulade.
The original recipe, as far as can be determined, was a mixture of mayonnaise, ketchup, chili sauce, sweet pickle relish, pimiento stuffed green olives, green onions, and chopped hard-boiled egg. Some versions of the original recipe leave out the ketchup, while others leave out the chili sauce. It is doubtful the first recipe was ever recorded.
Thousand Island is often used on Reuben sandwiches, as an alternative to Russian dressing. And, although many go on and on about the “secret” of McDonald’s Big Mac Special Sauce, it is obviously based on Thousand Island dressing.