Rediscovering an American Classic — Cobb Salad
Life as a Culinary Student
An entire class on salad, seriously? That was the topic of conversation one Tuesday evening in the women’s locker room at ICE. We hemmed and hawed, convinced that there was nothing to learn about salads that we didn’t already know. Salads, at least in the American culinary tradition, have been relegated to the depths of diet food, a punishment rather than a pleasure. But, as I would soon learn, salads can be unabashedly delicious, and the classics are classics for a reason — when executed correctly, they are irresistible.
My assignment that Tuesday night was Cobb salad — a classic American recipe that gave me a newfound respect for the humble art of salad creation. I always thought that Cobb salad was named after the famous baseball player, Ty Cobb.
The Cobb salad was born in the wee hours of a Hollywood, California, morning in 1937 at the Brown Derby restaurant. The owner, Bob Cobb, was ruffling through the kitchen’s refrigerator, pulling out various remnants including lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, tomatoes, chives and avocado. Smelling bacon being cooked nearby, he grabbed a few slices to add to his dish. Bob tossed the ingredients together and shared the outcome with his friend Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fame).
Mr. Grauman was so impressed that he asked for a “Cobb salad” at the restaurant the very next day, and a classic was born. The legend seems familiar to the story of the famous chicken wings of Buffalo. Perhaps the common thread is American ingenuity and resourcefulness on a plate?
A really great Cobb salad is not only a thing of beauty but an absolute pleasure to eat. Each bite brings a symphony of flavors and textures — the crispy bacon meets the creamy blue cheese, the crunchy and fresh salad greens mingle with pungent herbs and luscious chicken, the eggs provide a soft and satisfying backdrop, and the piquant vinaigrette delicately envelops each morsel and acts as an essential bridge that transforms the dish from many things to one.
Each component, when perfectly cooked and assembled, offers a culinary experience that is far greater in combination than any one ingredient alone. This is the key to understanding the true beauty of a perfectly composed salad. Like any other dish, it’s all about the balance. So how does one approach the Cobb salad? According Chef Charles Granquist, my instructor for salad night, “execute each ingredient perfectly, dress each component separately and arrange the salad organically — don’t overthink it.” When the night was through and the salads were delightfully devoured, visions of Cobb salad parties danced in my head: the classics I thought, can’t be beat.
Yield: makes about 10 servings
- 5 chicken breasts, bone-in
- Salt as needed
- Ground black pepper as needed
- 20 slices bacon, cooked
- 1 pound, 4 ounces Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into pieces
- 8 fluid ounces red wine vinaigrette (recipe below)
- 10 ounces tomatoes, medium-dice
- 10 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
- 3 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into medium-dice
- 5 scallions, bias-cut (at a roughly 45-degree angle), thinly sliced
- Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and roast until internal temperature is 165°F. Cool, remove the breasts from the bone, cut into ½" dice.
- Cook the bacon slices until crisp. Drain on absorbent paper towels and keep warm.
To assemble the salad:
- For each serving, toss two ounces romaine with two tablespoons of vinaigrette. Mound on a plate, and top with four ounces chicken, 1¼ ounce diced tomato, one ounce blue cheese, two ounces avocado, ¼ ounce green onions and two bacon strips, crumbled.
Red Wine Vinaigrette
Yield: 8 fluid ounces
- 1 tablespoon shallots, minced
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 fluid ounces red wine vinegar
- 6 fluid ounces canola oil
- Salt to taste
- Pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine the shallot, mustard and vinegar.
- Add the canola oil gradually, whisking constantly.
- Add additional flavorings and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust acid/oil balance.
A few tips from the chef in training:
- Make sure that your bacon is crispy! If it isn’t, you’ll lose that essential crunchy bite.
- Cook the chicken on the bone if possible — this delivers a more succulent and satisfying result.
- Make sure that you dress (don’t overdress) and season each component individually. This is the key to creating a cohesive and balanced dish.
- Use a long, oval platter rather than a bowl. This creates a more even spread for serving and presentation.
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