Recipe provenance is a wily thing. Who combined (insert your list) ingredients to make (insert your dish) first? Definitive answers to almost any version of that question elude, but it is possible to track down the first time a recipe was published. And that, friends, is where the credits come in. Waldorf Salad is a fun example. The recipe for Waldorf Salad was first published in 1896 by The Saalfield Publishing Co. of Chicago, Akron and New York in a 907-page tome written by Oscar Tschirky, famed maître d’hotel at The Waldorf Hotel from 1893 to 1943. Tschirky wasn’t a chef, but he had very good taste and a shrewd understanding of what guests liked. He’s also credited with being the first to menu eggs Benedict and veal Oscar among other classic hotel dishes. Finding The Cook Book by “Oscar” of the Waldorf, in a used bookstore, I went straight to page 433 to read the salad original, and found this: “Peel two raw apples and cut them into small pieces, say about half an inch square, also cut some celery the same way, and mix it with the apple. Be very careful not to let any seeds of the apples be mixed with it. The salad must be dressed with a good mayonnaise.” So, that was it? Chop some apple and celery, toss with mayonnaise and there you go? HA! I had to laugh. Was Oscar the first guy to combine the salty crunch of celery with the tart sweetness of apple in mayonnaise? Probably not. But the salad was served at the inaugural dinner of New York’s Waldorf Hotel in 1893 (it became the Waldorf Astoria later,) guests loved it, and it’s been known as the Waldorf Salad ever since.
How long it took for cooks to start quibbling over what constitutes “good mayonnaise” and gilding the lily by adding other ingredients is less sure. Walnuts were an early addition, then grapes, and over the decades myriad more mix-ins—even (God help us) marshmallows. There are Waldorfs with pineapple, winter pear and banana, Waldorfs served with sweet boiled dressing, crème fraiche, whipped cream or sour cream. Most have nuts, grapes or raisins, some add lemon juice and sugar. And lots have some kind of lettuce on the plate.
John Walls, director of public relations for the Waldorf Astoria’s 25 hotels worldwide said while the Waldorf Astoria New York has seen many versions of the salad since its inception, “it still stays true to its base of apples and celery.” According to Walls, the most recent recipe updates happened sometime in the late 1990s, and then again in 2011. One version included julienned Granny Smith and Gala apples, celery root, black truffles, sugared spiced walnuts and microgreens in a dressing of crème fraiche, lemon juice, yogurt and walnut oil. Currently the salad has Fuji and Granny Smith Apples, micro arugula, red and green grapes, walnuts candied with apple juice, honey, molasses and maple syrup, and, a truffle vinaigrette.
Until the Waldorf Astoria New York closed recently for a two-year renovation, Walls says the hotel was serving 20,000 Waldorf Salads a year (not including special event sales.) But during the renovation, salad lovers can still get a Waldorf Salad fix at other properties. Among the variations:
- Frank & Albert’s at the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort, serves a Waldorf with spinach and spicy orange yogurt dressing
- Peacock Alley at the Waldorf Astoria Beijing serves its “Beijing style” with apple Mikado and duck leg confit—in Shanghai it’s with truffle, and in Orlando, with buttermilk dressing.
- the Library Lounge at the Waldorf Astoria Berlin serves its Waldorf Salad with endive
- and the Goldfinch Brasserie at Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam serves its Waldorf sweet, with raisins
In the spirit of late ‘40s and early ‘50s Waldorfs, our version combines apple, celery and grape with spiced walnuts and candied ginger in a cloud of whipped cream, sour cream and boiled dressing. We learned longtime Chicago restaurateur Jimmy Wong’s method for removing the papery pellicle (outer skin of the walnut,) which takes away the tannic bitterness that many people don’t like. Deep fried, salted and spiced, the nuts are amazing as a snack all by themselves, but work very well with this salad. Because the colors are so pretty, I like to present the salad without the dressing, adding it at table.
- 1 1/2 cups walnuts
- 4 to 6 cups water
- Peanut oil for deep-fat fryer
- Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 Tbsp confectioners sugar
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/3 cup boiled dressing (recipe follows)
- 1/2 cup sifted flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp dry mustard
- 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1Tbsp unsalted butter
- 2 Granny Smith apples
- 2 Fuji apples
- 1 cup sliced celery
- 1 cup seedless green grapes, cut in half
- 1 cup seedless red grapes cut in half
- 1/4 cup finely diced crystallized (candied) ginger
- Grated zest from one small orange
- 1 1/2 cups peeled, fried and spiced walnuts (recipe included)
- 1 head leaf lettuce or Boston lettuce, washed and divided into lettuce cups
- Boil water. Cook walnuts in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain in colander. Shock with cold water.
- Heat more water to boiling again and boil walnuts a second time for three minutes. Rinse. Drain.
- Remove skins by peeling off with a tweezer, or using a mushroom brush.
- Heat peanut oil in deep fat fryer. Fry walnuts in oil at 360 until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel and sprinkle with salt and cayenne pepper.
- In a saucepan, combine flour, sugar, salt, mustard and paprika. Over low heat, gradually whisk in water and lemon juice. Continue whisking until mixture thickens and boils. Boil for an additional minute. Remove from heat. Cool just slightly. Whisk in the egg yolks and butter. Cool completely. This makes 2 1/2 cups of dressing; measure 1/3 cup for the salad and refrigerate the rest for another salad.
- In the chilled bowl of a stand mixer, whip cream until soft peaks form. Whisk in confectioners sugar. Stir in sour cream and 1/3 cup boiled dressing. Refrigerate.
- Wash and core apples. Blot dry. Cut apples into medium dice, leaving the skin on. Place apples in a large bowl. Add chopped celery, halved grapes, chopped ginger and grated orange zest. Sprinkle with spiced walnuts. Spoon individual servings into lettuce leaf cups. Top with Waldorf dressing. Garnish with more spiced walnuts and a little finely grated orange zest.
- We like this salad with the peeled & spiced fried walnuts, but if you prefer, you can simply toast the walnuts unpeeled. Spread them on a cookie sheet and place in the center of the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until fragrant and toasted. Salt to taste.