Kevin Gillespie gives up his boiled dressing recipe

Revival, 129 Church St., Decatur. 470-225-6770,

What the heck is boiled dressing?

It's a question often asked by guests perusing the menu at Revival, chef Kevin Gillespie's homey Southern restaurant in Decatur, where boiled dressing has become the unlikely star of a local kale salad that changes with the seasons.

Seemingly a Southern staple that dates back to another century, boiled dressing is most often a stand-in for mayonnaise in favorite recipes for everything from coleslaw to pimento cheese. Its allure is a dense texture and a tangy-sweet flavor that can enhance hearty green things such as cabbage or broccoli.

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Looking into the history of boiled dressing, you’ll find no less than three different recipes in the classic “Joy of Cooking,” which wisely warns that, “the term ‘boiled,’ while traditionally used, is inaccurate: ‘double-boiled’ comes closer.”

Recently, when we caught up with Gillespie at Revival, he made the surprise announcement that the recipe he and executive chef Andreas Muller based their boiled dressing on was adapted from that bastion of Yankee cookery, "The Fanny Farmer Cookbook."

“My grandmother, Coylene Higgins, made boiled dressing when I was a kid,” Gillespie said. “Her family was old Atlanta, and I think it was her mother’s recipe. But it wasn’t like we had it all the time. My grandmother made it to make specific things. I know my great grandmother just used it in place of mayonnaise.

“We didn’t use it like that. Boiled dressing was more like Miracle Whip. It has a slightly sweet taste and it’s very dense. And so my grandmother always used it for things she wanted to have an inherent sweetness in or something that was for a picnic outdoors, because theoretically boiled dressing is more shelf stable than mayonnaise.”

Besides the fact that boiled dressing isn’t really boiled, but rather simmered and thickened, it isn’t really a dressing, in the sense that you could just plop it on a salad.

“In truth, its consistency is a lot more spreadable than pourable,” Gillespie noted. “It doesn’t work particularly well with things that are naturally very light and delicate. I would never consider dressing baby greens with boiled dressing, because it would crush them. But it works perfectly for our kale salad, because the weight of it helps break the kale down and make it more palatable.

“We actually made the kale salad, because we wanted to make boiled dressing. I had this flavor memory of boiled dressing, hadn’t had it in years, and I was trying to think of things to make at Revival that would pay homage to my grandmother and her cooking.”

As it turns out, Coylene Higgins never put boiled dressing and kale together in any way, shape or form, but more often used it to make coleslaw, deviled eggs, a version of Marie Rose Sauce for cold seafood, and the family favorite holiday hors d’oeuvres Gillespie calls “Waldorf Salad” Sticks.

“The funniest thing about boiled dressing in my family is that it seemingly never had any place in our day-to-day life,” Gillespie said. “It only showed up on special occasions, which I think is funny, considering that its history is exactly the opposite. It’s supposed to be this utilitarian substance that’s not perishable. But for us, it was special.”


These recipes from Atlanta chef/restaurateur Kevin Gillespie and Revival executive chef Andreas Muller feature boiled dressing, an old-fashioned Southern staple that stands in for mayonnaise in many of Gillespie’s favorite family dishes.

Boiled Dressing

This is the master recipe for the boiled dressing at Revival, where it’s used in a favorite local kale salad that changes with the seasons. The recipe makes a quart but you can easily cut it in half to make a pint, which will be easier on your first try.

1 cup apple cider vinegar

2/3 cup water

4 tablespoons sugar

4 tablespoons flour

4 teaspoons dry mustard

4 teaspoons salt

1 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons butter

8 large whole eggs, beaten in a heat-safe bowl

Lemon juice to taste

Combine vinegar, water, sugar, flour, dry mustard and salt in a sauce pot, beating with a wire whisk. Place pot over medium heat and whisk in cream and butter. Cook until butter has melted and sauce simmers.

Add a small amount of the sauce to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly, to temper the mixture. Add a bit more sauce until the egg mixture is warm.

Add the warm egg mixture to the sauce. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, until thickened.

Remove from heat and adjust seasoning. Add lemon juice if preferred. Refrigerate in an air-tight container, if not using immediately.

Makes: 1 quart

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 39 calories (percent of calories from fat, 69), 1 gram protein, 2 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, 3 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 34 milligrams cholesterol, 151 milligrams sodium.

Coleslaw With Boiled Dressing

Gillespie calls this a very Southern, very simple, very stable version of coleslaw, with shredded cabbage and shredded carrot, and a rather sweet flavor. His chef trick is salting the cabbage and letting it drain overnight to draw off the excess water and allow it to better combine with the dressing. He likes to serve it with fried chicken.

1 head green cabbage

2 carrots

½ cup boiled dressing

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Slice cabbage on a mandolin, or with a knife, to make fine shreds. Peel the carrots and slice them similarly to the cabbage, or grate them on a box grater. Combine the cabbage with the carrots and toss them with 1 tablespoon of salt. Set the mixture in a colander over a bowl and place in the fridge overnight. The next day take the now drained cabbage and carrots and mix them with the dressing. This may be done up to 4 hours in advance and does not need to be refrigerated.

Serves: 6

Per serving: 104 calories (percent of calories from fat, 36), 4 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 45 milligrams cholesterol, 797 milligrams sodium.

"Waldorf Salad" Sticks

Gillespie calls this family favorite kitschy and fun and assumes its source must be a 1950s magazine recipe his grandmother made her own. It was a fixture at holiday parties where it always appeared on the relish tray.

3 celery sticks, with leaves

¼ cup golden raisins

2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced small

¼ cup toasted pecan pieces

½ cup boiled dressing

Peel the celery and cut the sticks into 2 in pieces, reserving the celery leaves. Place the raisins in a microwave-safe dish and cover with water. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and allow to cool to room temperature, drain and reserve.

When ready to serve, combine the raisins, apples and pecan pieces with the boiled dressing. Spoon mixture into celery sticks and garnish with celery leaves.

Makes: 6 sticks

Per stick: 125 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 2 grams protein, 15 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams fiber, 7 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 45 milligrams cholesterol, 220 milligrams sodium.

Sauce Marie Rose

This simple sauce for chilled seafood goes back to Gillespie’s grandparents’ British roots. The family favorite was as an accompaniment for poached shrimp. But Gillespie also likes it with French fries.

1 cup boiled dressing

1 cup chili sauce

2 tablespoons of lemon juice

2 tablespoons horseradish

Combine boiled dressing with chili sauce, lemon juice and horseradish and allow it to sit for 30 minutes before serving. Best served with chilled seafood or French fries.

Makes : 1 pint

Per 1-tablespoon serving: 17 calories (percent of calories from fat, 61), 1 gram protein, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace fiber, 1 gram fat (1 gram saturated fat), 17 milligrams cholesterol, 78 milligrams sodium.


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