It's possible that my culinary awakening came at around the age of 6 or 7 when I discovered that combining ketchup and mayonnaise produced something very similar to Thousand Island dressing. To a six-year-old, this was the equivalent of discovering gravitational waves.
It also opened my young eyes to the possibility that McDonald's "special sauce" might not be quite so "special" after all. (Although it turns out that the key ingredient there might be French dressing rather than ketchup.)
It also meant that I entered a heightened state of awareness when it came to pink condiments. So when my grandparents took me to Canters Delicatessen, I couldn't help noticing that the Russian dressing that accompanied the Reuben sandwich (among others) bore a striking resemblance to my ketchup-mayo concoction.
There are differences. Thousand Island dressing (named after a large group of islands on the St. Lawrence river between the U.S. and Canada) is a bit milder than Russian dressing, as the latter is typically made with horseradish, giving it more pungency. They're similar, though, and on any given day the two can be indistinguishable. (Some recipes for Thousand Island dressing feature chopped hard-cooked egg.)
Though it was originally intended as a salad dressing, the best application of Russian dressing turns out to be on sandwiches and burgers. There's something about this tangy, piquant condiment that cuts through the heaviness of corned beef or a cheeseburger (or even french fries).
At one time, Russian dressing was commonplace. Today it can be difficult to find Russian dressing at the store, especially in an era in which Ranch dressing leaves such a massive footprint across the world of condiments, not only for salads, but as a dipping sauce and even a topping for pizza. (Thousand Island and French dressings have become similarly endangered species.) Which is why it's fortunate that making your own Russian dressing is something that basically any six-year-old can do.
You'll see that this recipe features Sriracha sauce (sometimes called "rooster sauce" because of the large bird on the label of the bottle), which is obviously not traditional. And I could certainly indicate that it's "optional," as so many recipe writers (myself included) do. But having made it with Sriracha, and having tasted the unique, smoky kick it imparts, I wouldn't think of making it any other way.
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
- 1 tablespoon shallot (minced)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Dash Worcestershire sauce
- Dash Sriracha sauce
In a glass bowl, combine the mayonnaise along with half the horseradish and all of the remaining ingredients. Taste, and add additional horseradish as you deem necessary. Stir well. Cover with plastic and chill for 30 minutes before serving.