Ya ever dress ranch-style? You know, little fringed cowgirl skirt and vest with a tin star, those cute little red boots and a perky Dale Evans hat whipstitched around the brim...
Oh. Wait. That's a childhood fantasy, or maybe a Dixie Chicks album cover. Ranch dressing nowadays means white goop you put on a salad.
Now, you may know that I'm generally anti-commercial salad dressing. It's just no trouble to put some stellar ingredients in a jar, give it a quick shake, and onto the arugula it goes.
But I will confess a weakness for the taste of ranch dressing, all creamy and buttermilky and how-the-heck do they make that stuff? In fact, despite the fact that I seem to have trained my taste buds to the point that I can detect the awful industrial taste of factory farming in salad bar offerings, I still get a little thrill from the tinny flavor of the sticky liquids on display there: ranch, Italian, blue cheese... all fake, all kinda electric, like Halloween candy. Just call it slumming, I guess.
I bring this up because late last August the San Francisco Chronicle did yet another of its Taster's Choice roundups, where a distinguished panel of food professionals does a blind tasting and critique of a sampling of store-bought foods in a single category, and on August 30 the category was ranch dressings.
I don't always agree with Taster's Choice conclusions. In fact, of the store-bought food items they've judged that I happen to have tasted myself (OK, not many: canned clam chowders, dried pastas, maybe some others), I mostly disagree.
But, oh, you should have read the rave reviews the panel gave to (fanfare) — Safeway Ranch Dressing! It scored enough points to enter the so-called Taster's Choice Hall of Fame. (And come to think of it — aw, nuts — shouldn't it have entered the Hall of Tastes Pretty Good? Who cares about famous food?)
Safeway's ranch dressing was described by the panelists thus: "good buttermilk flavor," "quite well-balanced" and "tanginess, spices and herbs very well balanced." Oh, there was more. Lurid come-ons about its texture sealed the deal. I had to have a bottle.
How bad could it be? I'm known to eat salad-bar dressings!
But after shelling out over four dollars for a huge plastic jug of this goo, I have my own pronouncement on Safeway Ranch Dressing: Suckety-Poo. Horribly fake. Creepy, burny, unknown flavors. Unhappy homogenized consistency. It went straight into the trash.
So. Back to homemade dressings. Which brings up today's happy ending.
Cranky and I had lunch yesterday at, where I had a simply perfect little salad dressed in a crème fraîche vinaigrette. It seemed to have a subtle flavor of, oh, freshly grated horseradish, I think. It was light and tangy and very well balanced. It reminded me of a ranch dressing with very good manners, and it was REAL.
Next time I get a hankerin' to dress my salad like a cowgirl, I'm makin' the dressing myself.