Louis dressing closely follows the basic recipe for Thousand Island dressing. It is a tangy and creamy mixture of four parts mayonnaise, one part ketchup, with a little sweet relish and salt. What makes it unique is the ingredients on which it is found: a century-old classic called Crab Louis, whose origins are cloudier than its appeal.
Crab Louis dressing is poured over a bed of iceberg lettuce, slices or wedges of common salad fare like hard-boiled egg, cucumber, onion, cooked asparagus, tomatoes and avocados, and the star: a savory pile of Dungeness crab meat. This species is found in the Pacific waters of the United States, explaining how the range of restaurants that claim to be its original creator all line the American West Coast.
Lewellyn "Louis" Davenport, the owner of the Davenport Inn in Spokane, Washington, claimed to be the inventor of the Crab Louis dressing and salad. He put it on his menu in 1914, where it remained an allegedly original item in 2011. Davenport came to Spokane, however, from San Francisco, where, four years earlier, Solari's Restaurant touted the recipe as its own, named after the prodigious appetite of England's King Louis XIV. Six years before this, in 1904, the famed tenor Enrico Caruso is reputed to have made the dish popular during visits to the Olympic Club in Seattle, Washington.
Around this time, on the East Coast of the United States, Thousand Island dressing was invented by a family of fishing guides who included the dressing in a round of shore meals. The dressing took the notice of cookbook author and actress May Irwin, who gave the creamy concoction its name based on the Thousand Islands region around Clayton, New York. The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City took notice, and the recipe quickly became a national favorite.
It wasn't until the 1950s that Louis dressing became a common name, however. This may be due to the efforts of the popular Palace Hotel in San Francisco, where fishing for the Dungeness crab had become a regional obsession.
Dozens of variations of Louis dressing have been attempted through the decades, including the addition of diced chiles or onions to spice up the flavor profile. Some chefs add chopped black olives or hard-boiled eggs to add texture and substance, removing the egg and onion slices from the salad to compensate. Other chefs increase the amount ketchup and relish to add a more tangy flavor. These dishes might contain two parts mayonnaise, one part ketchup and one part relish, with salt to taste.