The history of Green Goddess dressing
At a recent celebration, we enjoyed a beautiful (and healthy) appetizer - artfully arranged fresh veggies served with a Green Goddess dipping sauce. I’d always assumed the name came from its pale green color and flecks of green herbs, but that’s not the case.
According to food historians, chef Philip Roemer of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco invented the salad dressing in 1923 to honor actor George Arliss, who was staying in the hotel while he starred in a play called “The Green Goddess.” If you’ve never seen the play or the silent film that followed, it’s no surprise, as the plot is rife with politically incorrect stereotypes that might not sit well with modern audiences.
It’s generally assumed that Roemer’s Green Goddess salad dressing was inspired by a sauce served to Louis XIII, not over salad greens but with smoked or grilled eel. Guests at the Palace Hotel in the 1920s enjoyed the dressing ladled over canned artichoke, a luxury at the time. In the 1960s, a bottled version appeared on grocery store shelves and in the 1980s, it was offered at most self-serve salad bars.
In newspaper articles on the subject, Green Goddess dressing has gone in and out of style through the years, evolving from a mayonnaise-centric original recipe into something lighter and brighter. Chefs have added more herbs, reduced or eliminated the mayonnaise, incorporated avocado and featured surprising flavor elements like curry powder.
Although it originated on the West Coast as a dressing for vegetables and salads, today’s Green Goddess is more prevalent in the Southern states as an accompaniment to fried oysters and other shellfish. The creamy, herbaceous and tangy qualities of the sauce also make it the perfect companion for a platter of crudités (see photo).
The traditional version of Green Goddess (courtesy of the Palace Hotel) includes only two herbs - chives and parsley - as well as white wine vinegar, anchovy filets, sour cream and mayonnaise. A 1948 New York Times article featured an “authentic” recipe that combined Worcestershire sauce, anchovy filets and oil from the fish tin with mayonnaise, chives and parsley.
You can find the original recipe from the Palace Hotel (now a Marriott-branded property) on a number of internet sites, from SF Gate online magazine to the Oakland Museum of California. For a lighter, fresher “modern” version of Green Goddess, I start with a simple homemade mayonnaise and blend in bright-green color with several herbs. Anchovy paste is a much easier way to add that umami layer than unpacking a tin of anchovy filets.
After you taste this dressing, you’ll want to always have some Green Goddess on hand. Along with fresh vegetables, the sauce works well on grilled fish and chicken, or spread on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise. And, if you’d prefer a shortcut that doesn’t have all the preservatives in a bottled blend, you can make your own from Penzey’s Green Goddess Dressing Base, a salt-free blend of green onion, sugar, basil, celery flakes, minced garlic and dill weed (penzys.com).
Traditional Green Goddess Dressing*
3 anchovy filets
1 C mayonnaise
1/2 C sour cream
1/4 C snipped chives
1/4 C minced parsley
1 T lemon juice
1 T white wine vinegar
Salt & pepper, to taste
Rinse anchovy filets, pat dry and mince.
Stir together with remaining ingredients in a small bowl, blending well. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve immediately or place in a sealed container and refrigerate. *Adapted from the Palace Hotel’s 1923 recipe.
Modern Green Goddess Dressing
1 large egg yolk
1 t Dijon mustard
2 T lemon juice
1 C olive oil
1 C flat-leaf parsley leaves
3 T snipped chives
2 T tarragon leaves
1 T dill leaves
2 t anchovy paste
1 chopped garlic clove
3/4 C plain Greek yogurt
salt, to taste
Combine egg yolk, mustard and lemon juice in the bowl of a blender. Process with a few quick pulses.
While running the blender, slowly add olive oil in a thin, steady stream, blending until mixture begins to thicken. Add parsley, chives, tarragon, dill, anchovy paste and garlic. Blend until smooth. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and whisk in yogurt. Adjust seasoning with salt, to taste. Serve immediately or transfer to a sealed container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.