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What Is Louis Dressing?

Dan Harkins
Updated May 16, 2024
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Louis dressing closely follows the basic recipe for Thousand Island dressing. It is a tangy and creamy mixture of four parts mayonnaise, one part ketchup, with a little sweet relish and salt. What makes it unique is the ingredients on which it is found: a century-old classic called Crab Louis, whose origins are cloudier than its appeal.

Crab Louis dressing is poured over a bed of iceberg lettuce, slices or wedges of common salad fare like hard-boiled egg, cucumber, onion, cooked asparagus, tomatoes and avocados, and the star: a savory pile of Dungeness crab meat. This species is found in the Pacific waters of the United States, explaining how the range of restaurants that claim to be its original creator all line the American West Coast.

Lewellyn "Louis" Davenport, the owner of the Davenport Inn in Spokane, Washington, claimed to be the inventor of the Crab Louis dressing and salad. He put it on his menu in 1914, where it remained an allegedly original item in 2011. Davenport came to Spokane, however, from San Francisco, where, four years earlier, Solari's Restaurant touted the recipe as its own, named after the prodigious appetite of England's King Louis XIV. Six years before this, in 1904, the famed tenor Enrico Caruso is reputed to have made the dish popular during visits to the Olympic Club in Seattle, Washington.

Around this time, on the East Coast of the United States, Thousand Island dressing was invented by a family of fishing guides who included the dressing in a round of shore meals. The dressing took the notice of cookbook author and actress May Irwin, who gave the creamy concoction its name based on the Thousand Islands region around Clayton, New York. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City took notice, and the recipe quickly became a national favorite.

It wasn't until the 1950s that Louis dressing became a common name, however. This may be due to the efforts of the popular Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where fishing for the Dungeness crab had become a regional obsession.

Dozens of variations of Louis dressing have been attempted through the decades, including the addition of diced chiles or onions to spice up the flavor profile. Some chefs add chopped black olives or hard-boiled eggs to add texture and substance, removing the egg and onion slices from the salad to compensate. Other chefs increase the amount ketchup and relish to add a more tangy flavor. These dishes might contain two parts mayonnaise, one part ketchup and one part relish, with salt to taste.

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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By turquoise — On Jun 30, 2013

@burcinc-- Maybe you didn't like the Louis dressing you tried. The original Louis dressing recipe calls for half mayonnaise and half ketchup. Some people put too much mayonnaise and too little ketchup. Pickle relish is also a must have in this dressing. This is a dressing that is meant to be used sparingly on salads, you certainly don't want your lettuce smothered in it.

I love Louis dressing. I eat it with fresh herb salad with real crab meat, or if I don't have crab, I put sliced boiled eggs or avocados. You can also use this dressing as a dipping sauce for shrimp and other seafood. I think if you try it with these other foods, you will like it.

By burcinc — On Jun 30, 2013

I'm not a fan of this dressing. I don't mind crab meat in my salad, but when the salad also has Louis dressing, I think it becomes too rich and heavy to be a salad. I can't tell if I'm eating veggies or fat.

By ZipLine — On Jun 29, 2013

We'll probably never know the exact origin of Louis dressing and when it was found. Around the same time that Louis dressing was invented, so was Russian dressing, which is considered to be the dressing that Thousand Island originated from.

I think that Louis dressing might have been adapted from Russian dressing. It could also be the exact opposite. Or perhaps the people who invented these learned the recipe from somewhere else altogether and then added their own touch to it.

Either way, I like all three of these dressings. I can start out with some tomatoes and mayonnaise and make any three depending on what other ingredients I have at home.

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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