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What is Russian Dressing?

Diane Goettel
Updated May 16, 2024
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Russian dressing is a salad dressing that is usually red or pink and used on salads as well as on sandwiches. The color of the dressing is attributed to the fact that tomatoes — or a tomato product such as tomato paste, tomato sauce, or ketchup — are used as a key ingredient. Despite its name, Russian dressing is actually an American invention. Culinary history indicates that it was invented in the United States either in the early 20th century or the late 19th century. The reason for the dressing's name may have to do with the fact that original recipes called for caviar, which is one of the foods that is most strongly associated with Russia, especially by Americans.

One of the most common uses for Russian dressing is as a condiment for Reuben sandwiches, which are hot sandwiches made with corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and rye bread. Depending on the sandwich chef's style of cooking and personal preference of the diner, the Russian dressing may be spread on the inside of the rye bread slices or used as a sort of dipping sauce. In some cases, Reuben sandwiches are served with Thousand Island dressing instead of Russian dressing. As the dressing is used for a number of purposes and is widely enjoyed as a part of American cuisine, there are a number of companies that sell a bottled version.

In addition to being used on Reuben sandwiches, Russian dressing is also used on green salads and spinach salads. It is quite common for the dressing to accompany salads that include hard-boiled eggs. The boldness of the flavors in the dressing are often enjoyed along with such ingredients that have milder flavors. It is common for Russian dressing to be made with paprika, celery seed, onion, lemon juice, and other spices in addition to ketchup, oil and vinegar. As such, it has a very rich, sometimes spicy flavor. In fact, sometimes it is made with horseradish.

Russian dressing has a number of similarities to Thousand Island dressing. The two dressings are sometimes used interchangeably, as in the example above with Reuben sandwiches. Russian dressing is also sometimes associated with fry sauce, which is a sauce that is used specifically as a condiment to go along with French fries. Much like Russian dressing, fry sauce uses ketchup as a main ingredient. The other key ingredient in fry sauce is mayonnaise which give it a pink or light red color that is similar in appearance to Russian salad dressing.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Diane Goettel
By Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount Vernon, New York with her husband, Noah. They are the proud parents of a Doberman Pinscher named Spoon. Specialties: book editing, book marketing, book publishing, freelance writing, magazine publishing, magazine writing, copywriting,"
Discussion Comments
By bluedolphin — On Jun 29, 2013

@MikeMason-- The original Russian dressing recipe calls for plain yogurt, not mayonnaise. That's actually how Thousand Island came out, when the yogurt was replaced with mayonnaise. The first ever Russian dressing was probably just a combination of yogurt and homemade ketchup.

I usually like sauces and dressings the authentic way, but when it comes to Russian dressing vs Thousand Island, I'll take Thousand Island any day. It just tastes better.

By stoneMason — On Jun 29, 2013

@SarahGen-- Russian style dressing with fresh or sun-dried tomatoes is much superior to Russian dressing made from ketchup in my opinion.

I make mine with both fresh and dried tomatoes. I also add onions, vinegar and mayonnaise and put everything through the blender. It's very easy to make and tastes great.

You can replace the tomatoes with ketchup if you want, but you should try it with real tomatoes at least once. You will see the difference.

By SarahGen — On Jun 28, 2013

Can anyone give me an easy Russian dressing recipe, preferably with mayonnaise and ketchup? I want to use it for beef sandwiches and sauce for fries.

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel
"Diane Goettel has a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from Brooklyn College. Diane lives in Mount...
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