The San Francisco Story of Green Goddess Dressing

a plate with fresh herbs, mayonnaise, tarragon vinegar and anchovies, ingredients fora green goddess dressing recipe

Green goddess dressing might seem like a contemporary creation, given trending desires for photogenic fresh foods packed with a full herb garden’s worth of greenery. It’s actually almost 100 years since the sauce was invented and given its evocative name by a chef at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel.

The original recipe is quite straightforward, blending lots of fresh herbs and scallions into a mayonnaise base, and spiking it with tarragon vinegar along with umami-rich anchovies. This combination of ingredients makes green goddess dressing a bolder cousin to ranch, an herbaceous alternative to Caesar, and worthy rival to both. It’s a recipe ripe for tinkering, as countless chefs and home cooks have done. Green goddess is versatile too, delicious as a dip, sauce and spread for so much more than salads.

a platter with a salad of romaine, onions, beets and seeds with green goddess dressing on the side

Who Invented Green Goddess Dressing?

There are no real debates about the invention of green goddess dressing. Philippe Roemer, chef at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, created the dressing in 1923 for a banquet honoring the actor George Arliss. While staying at the hotel, Arliss starred on a San Francisco stage in a popular play called “The Green Goddess,” which fit fortuitously with the color of the dressing.

A signature salad with green goddess dressing proved so popular that it’s been on the menu of the Garden Court Restaurant at the Palace Hotel ever since. An eternal best-seller, recent versions have put the dressing alongside Dungeness crab, tomatoes, avocado and green beans. Countless riffs on the original recipe have featured on restaurant menus and the home dinner table since its creation. The dressing is widely available in grocery stores, and in recent years got a boost from the popularity of Panera’s green goddess cobb salad.

The Original Green Goddess Dressing Recipe

A solid source for the original green goddess dressing recipe is the 1952 tome, “Helen Brown’s West Coast Cookbook” by Helen Evans Brown. The author got her recipe directly from the Palace Hotel. It calls for:

8-10 anchovy fillets

1 green onion

1/4 cup minced parsley

2 tbsp minced tarragon

3 cups mayonnaise

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

1/4 cup finely cut chives

All the above ingredients are to be mixed “in a bowl that has been rubbed with garlic.” Add salt and pepper to taste.

A collection of long-remembered recipes sent by readers to the San Francisco Chronicle in 1996 confirms a remarkable consistency in use of the original recipe throughout decades of circulation.  

How to Make it Your Own

With the ingredients above, making green goddess dressing at home is very easy. A blender or food processor will make short work of the job. The original recipe is readily adaptable. Substitute similar ingredients, add new ones and omit others, and adjust the consistency to your liking, and you’re still sure to end up with a delicious dressing.

Many recipes add lemon juice and minced garlic. Some reduce the mayo and add sour cream, Greek yogurt, buttermilk or avocado. Anchovy paste and Worcestershire sauce are common substitutions for the minced anchovies, and you can use white wine, Champagne or sherry vinegars if you don’t have tarragon vinegar. Try blitzing a jalapeno with the other ingredients for a sauce with some heat.

close up of a side dish holding green goddess dressing on a platter of salad with romaine and beets

Greens are essential, of course, but you can switch them up to include others like basil, dill, mint or chervil. This New York Times recipe includes a packed cup of watercress or spinach leaves for an especially verdant version. For a vegetarian green goddess dressing, The Kitchn suggests a touch of white miso instead of the standard anchovies. Salty olives could work well, too.

Even the Garden Court Restaurant at the Palace Hotel has evolved beyond its original recipe for green goddess dressing. In 2018, Executive Banquet Chef Juan Rojas, explained to KQED that his version stars whole grain mustard, shallots, capers, spinach, olive oil, lemon juice, pasteurized eggs and, curiously, ice.

Delicious Ideas for Green Goddess Dressing

Green goddess dressing was created to go with a salad and fresh seafood. As a heavier dressing, it pairs best with sturdier salad leaves like romaine, as well as other crunchy vegetables. Make it a little thicker to enjoy as a dip with crudites, or to spread on a burger bun or chicken sandwich. It’s delicious as a condiment with boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, steamed artichokes and grilled meat or fish. Try marinating lamb chops, chicken skewers, tofu or shrimp with green goddess dressing before grilling.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy green goddess dressing? Let us know!

Want to read about another beloved food to come out of San Francisco? Check out “The Story of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company.”

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