I need a ranch that won't drive me crazy...
March 18, 2009 4:31 PM   Subscribe

I love ranch dressing. So does my wife. But we really only love the ranch dressing you find in restaurants....

So you go to a restaurant and order ranch. It's good. REALLY good. It's thin and creamy and has little bits of stuff (parsley?!) floating around in it. So you go to the store and want to buy some for yourself. But the only thing you can find is this THICK stuff that tastes NOTHING like the dressing you find in just about ANY restaurant. We have literally tried six or seven different types of "ranch" dressing off the shelves of our grocery store, and none of them taste anything like the restaurant dressing. They're all much thicker, and the taste is not even close. What gives? And where can we get ranch that tastes like restaurant ranch?

Examples of a few we've tried....Hidden Valley, Marie's, Hidden Valley Buttermilk, Lighthouse
posted by Spyder's Game to Food & Drink (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Try buying a big jug of it at a restaurant supply store.
posted by rachelpapers at 4:34 PM on March 18, 2009

Try Hellmann's--Sysco sells it, so there's a good chance that that's what you're eating at restaurants.
posted by box at 4:38 PM on March 18, 2009

Have you tried making your own?

(I haven't tried the ranch, but their other dressing blends are great. And fresh is soooo much better, you won't believe it.)
posted by JoanArkham at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Make it yourself with buttermilk, either with a dry dressing packet or from scratch.
posted by scody at 4:41 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Are you going to local places that may be making their own dressing? I would just look up a few ranch dressing recipes and start experimenting in small batches. You won't be buying tons of dressing you don't like.

Or go to the restaurants you like and ask for their brand or recipe.

Mass produced dressing are going to have all kinds of preservatives, stabilizers and thickeners in them that a freshly made dressing won't. The common "thick and creamy" ranch isn't thick thick and creamy because of cream, but because of xanthan gum and cornstarch.
posted by Science! at 4:42 PM on March 18, 2009

If buying it doesn't work out, you could always try making your own. The most basic consists of a few basic ingredients: sour cream (or mayonnaise), buttermilk, garlic powder, onion powder, parsley flakes, salt and pepper. Some add more dry ingredients including crackers or breadcrumbs. Here are a bunch more. I'd guess more buttermilk would result in a thinner mix.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:50 PM on March 18, 2009

What kind of restaurant are we talking about here? If it's a chain restaurant or a local feeding trough, I can bet you donuts to dollars that what you're eating is Sysco-supplied ranch dressing, not kitchen-made. That said, I would speculate that Sysco's formulation is no different from supermarkets (the same soybean-oil base stuff) except perhaps with more MSG, so I would suggest perhaps mixing in MSG to see if it shifts the taste toward what you're expecting. As long as, of course, you're not sensitive to MSG.

If you're still puzzling over this I would recommend speaking to the manager at the restaurant after dinner and see if they can let you check out the ranch dressing container. But whatever way you cut it, I think it's going to be more healthy to make your own. Transfats and soybean oils aren't the hallmark of quality.
posted by crapmatic at 4:52 PM on March 18, 2009

I remember asking at one place (Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, maybe?) and I remember them telling me that it was Ken's Ranch dressing. You can also get it in regular grocery stores.

Another really good one is Newman's Own. It's actually the only one that I'll eat at home. Nom nom nom!!
posted by dancinglamb at 5:06 PM on March 18, 2009

Funny, my boyfriend and I were just discussing this today at a restaurant. I would suggest the packet method. My mom used to make this when I was a kid and it was way better than the bottle kind.
posted by fructose at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2009

You can ask at a restaurant what kind they use.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:18 PM on March 18, 2009

You can ask at a restaurant what kind they use.

That is the exact right answer. "Hey, we love your ranch dressing here! Do you sell it, or can you tell me where I can get some?"

Unless it's some super-secret exclusive recipe, your server will most likely gladly tell you or write down the info.

I once had this happen years ago with salsa/BBQ sauce or something similar. The waitress brought the bottle right to the table so I could write down the info from the label.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:29 PM on March 18, 2009

This question has vexed my wife for some time now. She has asked restaurants and they typically tell her it is Sysco.

She has come close to replicating restaurant ranch by combining regular sour cream or low-fat sour cream (not no-fat sour cream), plus Hidden Valley Ranch mix (which can be purchased in bulk at Sam's Club) and milk to taste (not skim), will come "extremely close," she says. You have to experiment to get the mix right.
posted by jayder at 5:37 PM on March 18, 2009

I always make my own ranch from roughly equal parts mayonnaise and buttermilk with pressed garlic, a bit of dry mustard and Worcestershire sauce, a generous splash of cider vinegar or lemon juice, a generous amount of finely minced herbs (parsley, basil, dill, marjoram, thyme, scallions, or basically whatever I have around), salt and pepper. It's very bright and fresh tasting and can be customized to best suit your tastes.

I also quite like the ranch at California Pizza Kitchen. Their recipe apparently looks like this:

For the Garden Herb Ranch Dressing
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cold water
2 3/4 cups mayonnaise
1 cup buttermilk
7 tablespoons sour cream
2 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onions
(green and white parts)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh Italian parsley
1 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
(or 1/4 teaspoon dried)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh basil
posted by mostlymartha at 5:48 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]

Spyder's Game: Are you me a few years ago?

I know what you're talking about. A LOT of ranch from different restaurants has that "certain taste", and they all get their ranch from different suppliers...so it shouldn't really taste that similar, right?

NONE of the storebought ranch tasted like the restaurant ranch regardless of the price.

I had a friend who used to work at a high end brewery ("yes we serve beer and wings...but we charge in the double digits and you cannot afford to break the glass", kinda place).

There is a SECRET!

Cucumbers. At first you won't believe me (like I didn't believe my friend), but you soon will:

---Check out the ranch at a place that doesn't serve salad (pizza places, burger only joints, etc). Their ranch will taste WAY different from a place that does serve cucumbers.

---All places that have similar tasting ranch have salads that contain cucumbers (at least in my experience).

What they do is this:

1. Prepare cucumbers for salads.
2. Put them in a bin to drain them of excess fluid
3. Take the drained water and mix it in their batch of ranch (at a certain proportion) to increase the volume of the ranch.

Try it. I've tried this at home and it worked. Its absolutely brilliant, and I never ever would have guessed had my friend never told me.

Good luck, and tell me if thats what you are looking for. I'm pretty damn sure it is.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2009 [9 favorites]

This recipe, from Saveur (issue 102), is one that I make all summer long. It's perfect, and I use whatever fresh herbs I happen to have on hand:

Ranch dressing was originally sold by its inventor, Steve Henson, as a seasoning packet that contained, among other ingredients, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, black pepper, and dried parsley; all cooks had to do was add mayonnaise and buttermilk. Our version uses fresh herbs, but fresh garlic and onion won't do: only the dried powders produce this dressing's characteristic flavor.

Whisk together:
1⁄2 cup buttermilk
1⁄2 cup sour cream
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh chives
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
1⁄2 tsp. onion powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

posted by amelioration at 6:40 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here's another recipe (with photos/detailed instructions) if you're up for making it yourself:

The Pioneer Woman Homemade Ranch Dressing
posted by jay dee bee at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2009

I have this same problem. The closest I've ever gotten to duplicating the restaurant ranch is to use the Hidden Valley dry packet mix mentioned above.

Also, if I am forced to buy Ranch from the grocery store in a bottle, I thin it out with a little bit of milk (like a couple of tablespoons) and shake up the bottle to mix until it's the right consistency.
posted by peggynature at 6:44 PM on March 18, 2009

Dollars to doughnuts it's Sysco Imperial Ranch Dressing, or maybe Ken's. Even in a nicer restaurant. If they offer ranch and they don't tell you it's housemade, it's probably not. True ranch is pretty time consuming and ingredient-consuming to make in-house for all but a place that really cares about it. I've seen the giant Sysco jar in even very nice restaurants - usually any place that gives you the standard range of dressings spiel (choose your own, italian/spicy italian/bleu cheese/raspberry balsamic/ranch etc) is getting them from a gallon-size plastic jar. Places that make their own dressing generally either brag about it, or pair each unique dressing with a specific salad.

I just Googled and there are a ton of links for "restaurant style ranch dressing." But if you like it, seconding just asking what it is and where you can buy it. If it's housemade maybe you'll get a recipe.
posted by Miko at 7:01 PM on March 18, 2009

Agreed with everyone above, both with the fact that store-bought ranch cannot even begin to challenge the deliciousness of restaurant ranch as well as thinking your best bet will either be Costco or the Hidden Valley dry packets.

When I go home to my parents' house, I always request the special powder + whatever else ranch concoction and it is heavenly. I'll put it on anything. Plus, with the packet you can play around with how much liquid you add and control the consistency.

Good luck! This is indeed a worthwhile endeavor.
posted by amicamentis at 7:10 PM on March 18, 2009

You should definitely check out Top Secret Recipes. Author Todd Wilbur reverse-engineers recipes from all kinds of national and regional chains -- even Starbucks -- so there's a decent chance of finding something you'll like. (I just double-checked the link and the home page features a chicken dish from a place called Margaritaville, including the mango-ranch dipping sauce!).

He has published numerous books so you might check those out if there is nothing you like on the site.

As mentioned above, don't hesitate to ask when you are at a restaurant. I just did this at The Counter, a local burger joint that has great Russian dressing. The waiter couldn't find the answer for me at that moment, and when I asked if I could buy some he just filled up a small to-go cup and gave it to me. (And yes, he got a huge tip!) Even if they can't (or won't) tell you, they'll be happy to hear positive feedback.

Good luck!

(I'm writing this on my mobile, so please excuse any typos or general sloppiness in the post.)
posted by Room 641-A at 3:21 AM on March 19, 2009

Well, JoanArkham beat me (by about 13 hours), but as a fellow ranch dressing connoisseur I definitely recommend Penzeys' blend. You can make it as thick or thin as you like, by adjusting the amounts of buttermilk and mayonnaise.
posted by LolaGeek at 5:38 AM on March 19, 2009

I am fairly certain that the "secret" ingredient to the Sysco ranch is high fructose corn syrup. Not a lot, but enough to get the silky mouthfeel even in a thin dressing, and when I am avoiding sugar I find the stuff is so sweet I have to get it on the side and use just a little drizzle. If you're experimenting, you might try regular corn syrup or simple syrup and see if you get that flavor pop that a lot of homemade versions don't have.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:52 AM on March 19, 2009

It is probably the higher-than-average human secretion/excretion content that is adding that wonderful restaurantiness.
posted by Gainesvillain at 11:16 AM on March 19, 2009

While Denny's food and service has gone down hill, their ranch is still as great as its always been. I asked my friend who worked at Denny's what the recipe was and she said it's just Hidden Valley dry mix, mayo, and water.
posted by new-xero at 3:10 PM on March 19, 2009

hal_c_on seriously nailed this, future "ranch dressing" searchers. I've done this about three times now: diced cucumber in a bowl (with a sprinkle of salt and about a teaspoon of rice vinegar, I've decided), let it release its water (most recently I also halved my cherry tomatoes and put them in too). Add bottle ranch to taste, which for me requires a tablespoon or two of water to take some of the zing out, spoon out the tomato and cucumber bits with ranch until salad is dressed.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:40 PM on April 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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