Friday, February 17, 2012

Salad dressing change in direction

The residents at work love their ranch salad dressing. Next to hot pepper sauce sauce -- mainly Tapatio and Sriracha brands -- bottled ranch dressing has been the most popular condiment at the house. They ladle it on everything, regardless how the dish tastes. Even ketchup takes a backseat to ranch.

Resident attitudes toward ranch dressing mirrors the trend in America. Since 1992, ranch has been the most popular salad dressing flavor in the country. It's been called the "new ketchup." My daughters dip for everything in ranch, including French fries, chicken wings and pizza.

(A 2008 blog article by Houston Press writer Rob Walsh puts a Texas spin on the dressing. The buttermilk dressing was popular on ranch dining tables "long before Hidden Valley Ranch existed." Walsh reprints a 1937 recipe for "Buttermilk Dressing" that's very similar to my recipe.)

As I watch the ladies pour gobs of the dressing onto their plates, I wonder if they can taste the entree. Last year I watched one resident pour it all over chicken stir fry. It's interesting to note that stir fry was this resident's favorite meal. Several routinely pair Sriracha with ranch dressing.

Even though salad dressing doesn't drive a significant hole in my food budget, I felt it was time to transition the residents to healthier dressings. I only purchase 4 gallons of ranch, along with a gallon each of 1,000 island and Italian per month for 20 to 25 residents. My calculations tell me that I can prepare healthier (and tastier) versions for roughly the same cost.

Two issues drive the move to scratch prepared dressings -- flavor and fat content. While most residents find bottled ranch dressing acceptable, I personally dislike the flavor. And the mayonnaise in the formula contributes most of the 140 calories in each serving (2 tablespoons per the nutrition label).

I plan to tackle all the salad dressings at work, not just ranch. I can improve the flavor of the dressings while cutting fat content by 40 to 50 percent. Last month I purchased five Cambro salad dressing crocks. By devoting one day each week to dressing production, I will be able to rotate stocks and ensure freshness.

I began with development of low fat buttermilk ranch dressing in January. I find that it takes four to five quarts per week for 20 to 25 residents. I will post the recipe soon.

The introduction of the ranch dressing went well. Only three residents noticed the difference. My favorite comment of the evening went like this: "You made this 'cause it's not from the big bucket. It has green stuff in it. It's good!"

More to come ...

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