Comeback Sauce

Any number of variations on a basic mixture of mayonnaise and tomato ketchup have passed for a sauce in restaurants across the nation for well over fifty years, but in Jackson, Mississippi this concoction is called comeback (in some various spelling). Its commercial popularity in Jackson harkens back to the Rotisserie, a restaurant the Dennery family ran at Five Points way back when that part the city was cool, probably around the time poodle skirts were all the rage.

I suspect that because the main ingredients are available to most people, and since the resulting mixture looks and tastes a lot like that quasi-exotic Tiki favorite Thousand Island (usually without pickle relish), this Ur-comeback soon became a popular substitute for bought dressing at home, and the basic combination was often taught in home economics courses during the 60s and 70s.

Nowadays people use comeback for almost everything. I’ve even seen recommendations for it with meats such as chicken and (Lord deliver us) beef. Me, I’ve always liked it on seafood; I do a version of it with a little horseradish, chopped parsley and lemon juice that’s just fine with shrimp or fish. You’re also likely to find another version of it in stores that’s marketed specifically for those deep-fried onion “blossoms” that have become so popular lately. Dare I add that while nobody’s stopping you from dipping a whole Vidalia in some sugar-saturated batter and deep-frying it, by doing so you’re pretty much denying its essential nature as an onion, an vegetable you should have an intimate relationship with already.

Now of course all sorts of exotics have found their way into this combination, it has come to be a workhorse instead of a novelty, and the recipe is well past its salad days. To put it mildly, the ingredients of comeback are a bone of contention. Most recipes for it involve an emulsion combined with something red, which in our locale usually involves a processed tomato. Now, you could probably very well take a little tomato paste and add a bit of vinegar to it, but be nice to yourself and just use chili sauce. Some prefer salad dressing instead of mayonnaise, and others consider cocktail sauce superior to the more pedestrian chili sauce.

As to other additions, I’d stop well short of ground rosemary, but you’re the cook. My version of comeback, like my mother’s, is quite simple, involving not much more than mayonnaise, chili sauce, Worcestershire and black pepper. Any recipe for comeback dressing is always improved by the addition of onion powder and a smidgen of garlic. If you’re serving it with seafood, a little lemon juice is needed along with the aforementioned horseradish and parsley.

I’ve seen comeback referred to as “Mississippi Comeback”. I like that; if Mississippi were to have a signature dish, it should be one that beckons her weary children home. As a Mississippian of any degree, knowing how to make a good comeback dressing should be as much a part of your repertoire as knowing how to pass a tractor towing a bat wing bush hog on a two-lane highway.

 

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