I have had many Cobbs in my life, since it is an all-time favorite salad.
Cobb Salad was created in the legendary Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles (which was constructed like an oversized hut), and its patronage included old Hollywood from the 40s and 50s, and new Hollywood faces from the 60s and 70s. One day the owner went into the kitchen and tossed together a salad at the request of a diner with what was on hand at the cold station. The salad was such a hit (it has all the ingredients for a club sandwich) that diners started asking for it and it became a standard on the menu. Variables include applewood-smoked bacon, smoked chicken, real Roquefort from France or a domestic bleu from Wisconsin, even heirloom tomatoes. Whatever level you decided to play with your Cobb, the combination of the elements is perfectly satisfying and if you think you can leave out one part, beware. It won’t taste or feel quite the same with every bite. I use a buttermilk dressing for my Cobb, my contribution to the legacy.
Buttermilk Herb Dressing
1 small clove garlic, or 1 green onion
1 or 2 basil leaves
1 sprig flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise or Vegenaise
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups romaine lettuce, chopped fine
2 cups Boston lettuce, chopped fine
2 cups iceberg lettuce, chopped fine
3/4 cup watercress, or 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarse stems discarded, chopped fine
1 to 2 ripe avocados, diced
3 cups cooked chicken breasts, diced fine (a rotisserie chicken from the grocery is a real time saver), or coked turkey breast
6 slices cooked lean bacon, chopped fine
2 large tomatoes, 1 seeded and chopped fine, and 1 cut into 8 wedges
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives. or green onions
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort or other favorite bleu cheese
In a small food processor, drop in the garlic or green onion and chop. Add the basil and parsley; pulse to finely chop. Add the buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, and salt; pulse a few times to combine. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator; dressing thickens as it sits. Makes 1 cup.
Place the eggs in a pot and cover with cold water by a 1/2-inch or so. Bring to a gentle boil. Now turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for exactly seven minutes. Have a big bowl of ice water ready and when the eggs are done cooking place them in the ice bath for three minutes or so, long enough to stop the cooking. Crack and peel each egg. Set aside.
Toss together all of the lettuces and watercress in a large salad bowl. Halve, pit and peel the avocados and cut them into 1/2-inch chunks. Arrange the chicken or turkey, bacon, bleu cheese, chopped tomato, and avocado decoratively over the greens and toss well before serving with the vinaigrette. Finely chop the hard cooked egg. Garnish the salad with the chopped egg, tomato wedges, and chives. Serve the dressing on the side.
A Side of Greens
Salads are designed to be the main portion of a meal, but often all the meal needs is a simple pile of greens with a dressing to round it out. This is where lettuces are the star. Think of lettuces in categories such as crunchy, tender, and bitter. The four categories of lettuce are crisphead, butterhead, leaf, and romaine, each category having many selections and different lettuces appearing at different seasons. Many premixed bags of salad greens will combine these elements. Choosing your lettuce properly will help you pair your pile of greens to complement your main dish.
Remember to wash and blot dry, or spin, your lettuces as they will wilt if left soggy.
Don’t pass up iceberg lettuce because it has been around forever and doesn’t seem gourmet. Think universal. There is nothing like an ice cold wedge of crunchy iceberg lettuce with thick, creamy bleu cheese or ranch dressing. Romaine lettuce is really popular, especially since some marketing genius made packages of hearts only. Toss romaine leaves, either whole, torn, or chopped, with a Caesar dressing, thousand island, creamy French, or toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar-based dressing. Boston, or butterhead, lettuce is very tender and has large, rounded soft leaves. It is rather sweet so you can make your wine vinaigrettes and drizzle it over the leaves. Another tender lettuce is red leaf. Mâche, also known as lamb’s lettuce or corn salad, is a tender green with a tangy flavor and is good with smooth fruit vinegar or sherry vinaigrettes.
Some of the new designer greens are a big surprise; they are bitter. Contrast them with sweet additions, such as crumbled goat cheese, roasted vegetables, beets, canned beans, figs wrapped in bacon and broiled, strips of sun-dried tomato. Keep your vinaigrettes mild, instead of sharp and assertive.
Another favorite dinner salad green (especially in French cuisine) is curly endive, also known as frisée. People get addicted to its bitter flavor and sturdy texture. It is often topped with sautéed mushrooms, bacon or lardons, even a poached egg, and a nice balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing. Spinach salads, especially nice when made with baby spinach, are topped with a warm bacon and tart vinegar dressing since the greens wilt and taste really appealing. Many people love the peppery flavor of arugula and watercress so much, they make an entire salad out of the single green, or else toss them with one of the leaf lettuces.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Weeknight Cooking, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2008, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.