Russian dressing is one of those spreads that sounds gross until you eat it. Mayonnaise and ketchup together? With Worcestershire and a bit of smoky-sweet heat? Oh yes. Dating back to at least the early 1900s, many credit James E. Colburn, a grocer in New Hampshire, with Russian dressing’s creation. At the time, the dressing was still mayonnaise-based but seasoned with caviar (hence the name; though others say it’s because the dressing contained pickles; another theory is it was invented to top a Russian-inspired salad). The original got its coral hue thanks to puréed lobster shell—you don't see much of that these days. Still, Colburn’s condiment was apparently so popular he was able to retire off the money he made selling Russian dressing. Eventually, ketchup or chile sauce found its way into the spread, which made it quite similar to another dressing: Thousand Island (which was first documented around the same time as Russian in New York state).
Some say that at this point, the difference between Thousand Island and Russian dressings is that Russian sometimes doesn’t contain pickles, or that it does contain Worcestershire, and that Thousand Island is typically bound with hard-boiled eggs and always contains pickles and sometimes olives, too. What’s safe to say about both today is that they're just as often used as something other than salad dressing. Russian dressing in particular is typically spread on sandwiches like Reubens or New Jersey sloppy joes. This Russian dressing recipe is the closest to what I’ve seemed to find on sandwiches ordered in northern New Jersey, but you don’t have to make it the same way. If you prefer more or less of any ingredient to make it saltier (more Worcestershire), sweeter (more ketchup), or spicier (more hot sauce), play around with the ratios until it tastes right to you. —Rebecca Firkser
- Prep time 5 minutes
- Serves About 1¾ cups
1 1/2 cups
pickle relish (optional)
vinegar-based hot sauce, such as Cholula or Tabasco
white distilled vinegar
sweet or smoked paprika
- In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk well to combine. Season with salt to taste, then adjust with more Worcestershire, ketchup, or hot sauce to taste.