Wednesday, April 14, 2010

classic cobb salad

cobb crazy

When I am considering recipes I might share with you all, there are a lot of foods that I arbitrarily rule out. Sandwiches? Nope! With rare exception, who needs a recipe for slapping things between two pieces of bread? Fruit salad? Oof! No! Again, unless you’re doing something fancy-fancy to it, I’m pretty sure people can find their own path to chopped fruit in a bowl. So when I got to thinking about making an old-school Cobb salad a couple months ago, I quickly rejected it because given the Cobb salad’s ubiquity on lunch menus everywhere, who doesn’t know how to make it?

this salad needs bacon

As it turns out, someone does not. Last month, at a restaurant in New Jersey, both my mother and I ordered Cobb salads, my mother the “small” version, along with a cup of soup, and myself, the regular one, with no soup. When the waiter brought out a bowl that was a third the size of the table, I groaned and tried to shuffle objects around on a table to accommodate it. “What is up with these ridiculous portion sizes?” I complained, as usual. Oh, little did I know, people! Little did I know, because the waiter next brought out a bowl I can barely describe. Imagine the bowl you would take down to make a salad for 12 people, or a vessel large enough for this guy to take a nap in, or this bowl, with a diameter so staggering that it would only fit if partially hanging off the table. This was my entrée Cobb salad.

And within those acres of iceberg, not a speck of bacon was to be found.

i love iceberg lettuceromainecubed chicken breastavocado

So let’s talk about Cobb salad, the original, old-school way, the way I really wished it would have been — with bacon. Like any food with a long past, there are dueling versions of how it came into existence. What most agree on is that The Cobb Salad was invented at The Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood in 1937, and it had some connection with The Brown Derby’s owner, Robert Cobb. Whether Cobb, on a hungry prowl, pulled this and that from the fridge and swiped bacon from a line cook to satisfy his cravings, as Arthur Schwartz insists, or whether a chef at the restaurant created this salad to cheer Mr. Cobb up when he returned to work, hungry and irritable, after a dentist appointment, as his widow says it came to be, will likely never be known. What few disagree on is the ingredient list: a mix of iceberg, romaine and watercress heaped with avocado, blue cheese, chicken, chives, hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes.

And bacon. Look, I’m almost over it, okay?

avocado, bacon and blue cheese
egg, chicken

One year ago: Cinnamon Swirl Buns (and a pregnancy announcement!)
Two years ago: Caramelized Shallots
Three years ago: The Tart Marg

Classic Cobb Salad
Adapted, barely, from Saveur

Serves 4 to 6

Dressing (Heads up: I found I only needed half of this)
3/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Salad
1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and shredded
1/2 head romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 bunch watercress, some of the stems trimmed, chopped
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (we used a Stilton)
6 strips cooked bacon, roughly chopped
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 medium tomatoes, peeled*, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cooked and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons chives, minced

Make the dressing: Combine the canola oil, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, sugar, and garlic in a blender. Purée the ingredients to make a smooth dressing and season with salt and pepper. Set the dressing aside.

Make the salad: On a (very) large platter, combine the iceberg and romaine lettuces along with the watercress. Arrange the blue cheese, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, chicken, and avocado on top of the greens in neat rows. To serve, drizzle salad with dressing, season with salt and pepper, and top with chives. Alternatively, toss everything together in a bowl.

Do ahead: Salad dressing keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to one week. Individual ingredients (except the avocado, which is too prone to browning) can be prepped and chopped, and kept in separate containers in the fridge until you’re ready to assemble the salad. However, no doubt due to sturdiness of 2/3 of the lettuces, I found that the entire assembled salad kept surprisingly well wrapped in plastic in the fridge for a few hours.

* To peel a tomato: Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and blanch in a large pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. Immediately transfer with a slotted spoon to an ice bath to cool. Slide the skins right off, starting at the X. Completely befuddled by the need for this step? Skip it.


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