All about Thousand Island dressing

All the recent trends have identified growing concern and unease among the general populace due to uncertain political and economic climes. People are resorting to comfort eating, they are luxuriating in nostalgia – in artisan jams made to ‘grandma’s original recipe’, and to Victorian vegetables such as salsify and fenland celery.

I was (as regular readers will know) brought up in Canada, so my yearnings are for pecan pie, chocolate chip cookies, and maple syrup on my pancakes. As well as really, truly crispy bacon, and really truly soft ice cream. And I also yearn for Thousand Islands dressing to pour with abandon (forget concerns of health) over my iceberg.

In those days ready-made sauces were unknown in Britain (which hadn’t long been free of rationing) and my mother (normally a discerning cook) succumbed to the guilty pleasure of buying bucket loads of Thousand Islands dressing as supplied by Kraft.

However, now that I have discovered a really excellent mayonnaise supplier (follow this link to find out how) there is really no excuse for me to emulate this. So below is my take on how to go about making a cracking good version.

I’m well aware that many include chilli sauce in theirs – but I prefer to go down the tomato route. I also know that a lot of people use sweet pickles, but I prefer the mix of olives, capers, and spring onions.


Recipe for making Thousand Islands Dressing


  • 120 ml/½ cup best quality mayonnaise – Dr Will’s is wonderful
  • 5-6 green olives stuffed with red pepper, chopped
  • 4 spring onions
  • 1 egg – hardboiled, chopped
  • 1 tsp capers (ideally, not the type in brine)
  • 2 tsps sundried tomato paste
  • chopped chives if you have any growing outside


  1. mix all together except the spring onions – simply snip those in, including about an inch (4 cm) of the green. 



What about the name – where are the Thousand Islands exactly?

The Thousand Islands are, in fact, some 1,864 islands which run up the St Lawrence river as it runs some fifty miles along the border between the USA and Canada. I remember spending blissful summers there. On the Canadian side they form part of a National Park, and the islands are perfect of childhood adventures (along the Swallows and Amazons lines).


The Thousand Islands archipelago.
The Thousand Islands archipelago.


In order to qualify as an island, the land above water level needs to be sufficient to support two living trees. Some look like mere specks.


how to make thousand island dressing
Many of the islands are not all that big….this one is appropriately named Just Room Enough Island. Image courtesy: CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


The history of the Thousand Islands dressing

There are a number of stories (as with so many recipes – see for example, The Gibson Cocktail) regarding the invention of the Thousand Islands dressing, but the one most cited, and which I like the best goes like this.

The wife of a gillie on the US side of the islands, Sophia Lalonde, invented the dressing. Lucky for her she had a rather higher profile friend, the actress May Irving, who asked for the recipe, and renamed it Thousand Islands dressing.


how to make thousand island dressing
The actress May Irving looked as if she enjoyed her food…


May Irving, in turn, had a friend, George Boldt, prospective owner of Boldt Castle (it was in the process of being build) on Heart Island, one of the Thousand Islands – not far from Just Room Enough Island, above, but rather larger. Boldt also owned the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York, and he gave instructions to his Maître D’, in 1894, that it should be put on the menu there. The Maître D’ was none other than Oscar Tschirky, inventor of his own iconic dish, the Waldorf Salad. Sadly, Boldt’s wife, Louise, died in 1904 and all progress on the building was halted.


Things to do with Thousand Island dressing

  • serve it over wedges of iceberg lettuce; sprinkle over crumbled, crispy as you can get bacon.
  • cut a flavoursome cucumber into chunks a couple of inches (9 cm) thick. Gouge out a hollow, fill with the dressing and serve as canapés
  • shred a Savoy cabbage, slice over a couple of radishes, dress with Thousand Islands
  • Thousand Islands dressing is famously a key ingredient of a Reuben sandwich. This is a heavenly creation, albeit a not specially healthy one, comprising corned beef (if you are hard up) or hot pastrami (rich as Croesus), sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Thousand Island (or Russian – see below) dressing sandwiched between two slices of rye bread. For a great article on this go to Merlin Jobst’s post.
  • add extra mustard and horseradish and use as a sauce for shredded cabbage, or for chicken wings. These additions put it well on the way to becoming a rémoulade sauce.
  • use on burgers – cheese, beef…anything
  • as a pasta sauce with prawns or crab
  • on a salad of avocado and citrus


What is the difference between Thousand Island dressing and McDonald’s secret sauce?

McCormick & Co supply McDonalds. The concept of the sauces is more or less the same…however the execution is light years away. There are all kinds of transfats, and sugars added….


What is the difference between Thousand Island dressing and Russian dressing?

Both sauces are based on mayonnaise and tomato paste or ketchup. However, Russian dressing is a bit hotter, thanks to the horseradish, and it lacks the pickles.


For an improved, more interesting, céleri rémoulade, follow this link.


For a post on the Marie Rose sauce – also mayo and tomato – follow this link.



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