As the fourth-largest producer of salad dressing in the US, Ken’s Dressing graces a lot of our greens. But what sets the brand apart from the competition is the range of choice – it seems like there’s always a new version to try. According to their website there are 62 flavors in all, though there are really only 46 if you don’t count the 15 “lite” versions and the one fat-free option, raspberry pecan. What this bottled dressing lacks in ambition, it makes up for in variety.
Ken’s dressing is fancy, but in an old way, like when steakhouses were the pinnacle of dining out, and a highlight included a trip to the salad bar. Even though none of the components were fancy on their own (consider the humble Wedge), the dinner was an event that transformed the lettuce-eating experience. Because ultimately this kind of salad is not about the greens, but the dressing.
In theory, every salad I make should be thoughtfully and artfully composed using tender lettuces that were washed and dried the moment I brought them home from the farmers’ market. I would then invent some interesting dressing in the bottom of a large metal bowl and judiciously coat each leaf before plating with some fried breadcrumbs or freshly roasted nuts. In reality, I just buy romaine hearts from Key Foods and can’t really spare the time to emulsify egg and oil and cheese for lunch on a weekday. So most of the time, I’m eating a different kind of salad, one that simply exists to make it easy to eat a large quantity of watery vegetables.
Instead of mixing up a bespoke vinaigrette, I look to some guy named Ken, who has already perfectly seasoned a mix of oil and acid for every palate; he creates flavorful dressings from balsamic to Greek to sweet Vidalia onion for maybe a third of the price of the average bowl of Chop’t. There are so many flavors that I can never recall what the last one was like. If I got the buttermilk ranch last time, maybe I will get the farmhouse ranch with buttermilk, or the peppercorn ranch, or the poppy seed, because what does that even taste like?
Even though there are flavors I wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot fork– like any raspberry vinaigrette, French, or Thousand Island– I love that the more vintage flavors have persisted, as well as their comforting retro labels.
You might already love Ken’s by another name, because they happen to produce dressing for Newman’s Own as well; when you think Paul, it might actually be Ken. (And when you think of Hidden Valley, think of bleach, because they’re owned by Clorox.) When I worked at an airport wine bar, people would always say how much they loved our salad dressing—also Ken’s, this time from their restaurant supply range. I believe it was the separating Italian dressing if you’re interested in committing to a gallon.
Sometimes salad is special, but a lot of the time it is just another boring vegetable, albeit a cold and crunchy one. All you can do is pick out a dressing and congratulate yourself for the mere fact that you actually ate the bag of greens in your fridge instead of letting it go bad again.