While I was in the US, I rediscovered Ranch dressing. Or should I said, discovered Ranch dressing, because I was never really a big fan of the stuff even when I lived in America.
Ranch dressing has a bad reputation.
First, Ranch is generally regarded as being terrible for you. Not only is it full of high fat mayonnaise and sour cream, but it’s often served with other fatty (but delicious!) foods like breaded fried zucchini and french fries. Ranch is a staple of the salad bar, usually with its friend “low fat Ranch”, America’s attempt to satisfy the nation’s craving with a less sinful but entirely substandard imitation.
Second, Ranch dressing is almost always of the bottled “Hidden Valley Ranch” variety. Highly processed, and just sort of generic-tasting, this type of Ranch doesn’t taste horrible, but it doesn’t taste remarkable either.
And yet, the concept of Ranch is entirely promising. Made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt, garlic, onion and herbs, it sounds like it could be good. After all, creamy dressings, for salad or for dipping, have their place in society. And while I’m saving Ranch, I’d like to also put in a few goods for mayonnaise which also gets a bad wrap. What is mayonnaise but a lot of oil and a little bit of egg? We put oil on our salads every day! How is mayonnaise so different?
But back to Ranch. Seeing its promise, my sister Stephanie set out in January 2010 to create a Ranch dressing that is truly remarkable. She succeeded in spades, discovering that pickle juice is the magic ingredient that gives Ranch a fresh lift. The rest comes down to herbs and spices, of which parsley, chives, onion and garlic are key. The result is pungent, dynamic, creamy and, as I discovered on this last trip, good with almost anything you throw at it.
The Great Ranch Fest of 2011/2012 began at my friend Abby’s and Matt’s on New Year’s Eve. We were mulling over recipes and salads and I mentioned the Ranch dressing. Abby suggested we make it to serve with her breaded green beans. The first bite blew our minds. The Ranch was PERFECT with the breaded green beans. Then, we tried some Ranch on our pizza. Again, ka-pow.
We finished the whole batch of Ranch that night, and the next day, made another batch to go with fish tacos. Again, the Ranch was gone by the end of the meal. (This probably goes a fair way to explaining why my clothes don’t fit quite like they did before the trip!)
I made Ranch again later on my trip with Stephanie, where we staged a repeat of Abby’s breaded green beans (they are about as awesome as the Ranch itself). It was here Stephanie taught me a thing or two about why her recipe works.
The secret(s) to good Ranch
First, there’s the pickle juice, which should be from dill pickles – Claussen Kosher Dills are best (I just discovered to my delight that Claussen owns pickles.com, and to my disappointment, Kraft owns Claussen – alas). It’s important that the pickle juice be not very sweet (I’m pretty sure Claussen’s has no sugar in its pickling juice). As I discovered at Abby’s, for lack of dill pickle juice you can use normal pickle juice with a good pinch of dried dill.
Then there’s the mayonnoaise. I made my first batch at Abby’s with Hellman’s, and the second batch with some hippy organic mayonnaise. Guess what: the Hellman’s won. Annoying, but true. I would like to try making Ranch with homemade mayonnaise, or the stuff that Riverford sells which is truly awesome. Verdict TBD (please let my mayo win!).