The Original Waldorf Salad Dressing Was Exceptionally Simple

We may regard the Waldorf salad as a fancy dish since it was first created at the swanky Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Park Avenue in New York City. But as elegant as the salad can be (with the proper presentation), the original version's dressing couldn't have been simpler. The only three ingredients involved were mayonnaise, salt, and pepper — so essentially, people were just eating seasoned mayo. But it's possible that was all that was ever intended, as Food52 reports that instructions from the original recipe simply suggested the salad "be dressed with a good mayonnaise." This would be in keeping with the simplicity of the remaining elements, as early recipes were composed of little more than apples, celery, and mayo.

So why was the dressing created to be so uncomplicated? While it was part of a menu produced by Edouard Beauchamp, the executive chef for the hotel at the time, the salad was the brainchild of Oscar Tschirky, who wasn't even a chef. As maître d' of the establishment, Tschirky took it upon himself to teach guests about fine dining. He created the salad for a charity ball in March of 1893, when a simple dish was needed to feed 1,500 people and sweet salads were in their prime. And although the Waldorf is undoubtedly the most famous of the bunch, it's clear he was a fan of a straightforward salad as he detailed a plethora of them in "The Cook Book by Oscar of the Waldorf." 

The first Waldorf salad dressing only had mayo, salt, and pepper

For chefs since, the simplicity of Waldorf salad dressing seemed more like a starting than an ending place, and they haven't hesitated to craft their own versions of it. Different versions throughout the last century included mayo made with walnut oil, whipped cream in place of mayo, and gelatin and cider vinegar. In 2011, the dressing got a Frenchy lift when the culinary director and executive chef of the Waldorf Astoria began serving a version of the dish featuring crème fraiche, Dijon mustard, champagne vinegar, egg yolk, and white truffle oil dressing. And in the category of just as simple but different, Ina Garten shares on the Food Network that she omits the mayo altogether in favor of a homemade vinaigrette.

Home cooks have also taken liberties with the Waldorf ingredients. Lighter versions of the dressing, like in our candied walnut Waldorf salad, are made with Greek yogurt, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. And while many recipes stick with the traditional mayo, others incorporate beaten whipping cream or even sour cream. Whichever way you make it, it's clear the dressing today has evolved way past its classic version.