The Perfect Cobb Salad
By Heidi Allison
The Brown Derby was the “It” Hollywood celebrity hangout in the ‘30s and ‘40s: the food was good, telephones were brought to your table, and it stayed open till 4 a.m. This restaurant was a fun place to eat —the building was in the shape of an enormous brown derby hat—a unique calling card on Hollywood and Vine, wait staff were dressed in derby-shaped, starched white shirts, lighting was in the shape of domed derby hats and it had circular booths. But…what brought people back were two iconic dishes: the Cobb Salad and Grapefruit cake.
Their signature dish, the Cobb Salad, is as old school as it gets… And, that’s a good thing. Created by its second owner, Robert Cobb, this iconic “meal-in-a bowl” was initially served to a favorite client, Sid Grauman, owner of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, in 1937. The first “composed” or “chopped” salad, the Cobb was an instant success. Served at lunch and dinner, this dish was a hit with the “ladies that lunch”, Hollywood’s moneyed elite, and agents, producers or actors watching their waistline.
The original Cobb called for: poached chicken breast, avocado, fresh tomato, crumbled, imported Roquefort cheese, crispy bacon, hard-boiled eggs, chives and a mix of bitter (chicory and watercress) and crunchy (iceberg and romaine) greens.
All key ingredients were cut into a small dice, engineering the iconic Cobb flavor profile and texture into each bite.
Getting the texture right is a key element to making this salad work— all ingredients must be diced into a small cube shape, or slightly larger than a 1/4-inch dice. This is a crucial step. You can swap out the bland poached chicken breast for a more flavorful smoked turkey breast (and improve on the original recipe), but…a non-negotiable step is “the dice” if you want the real thing. Another caveat: Keep all the salad ingredients in separate bowls after prep. Right before serving, compose the ingredients in wide, neat rows over the chopped greens and bring the vinaigrette to the table—dress right before serving. This key step keeps the greens crisp instead of wilted.
But, what really grabs my attention in this recipe is the salad dressing: equal amounts of water to red wine vinegar are used to temper its acidity. However, this unusual addition of water also helps to maintain an emulsion. If you store the salad dressing overnight and it separates, just give it a few shakes and it goes right back into an emulsion. Brilliant…
A bit of sugar, along with a few tablespoons of sweet white balsamic vinegar (not traditional) round out the flavor perfectly.
French Red Wine Vinaigrette:
Makes: 2 1/2 cups
1/2 cup water
3 Tbs. white balsamic
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/1/4 tsp. Kosher flake salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. English mustard (Coleman’s is good, or, double the amount and use Dijon )
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup avocado oil (can sub with a neutral oil, such as canola)
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender, except the two oils. With motor running, slowly add oils till an emulsion forms, then pour into mason jar or a container with a tight fitting lid, and store in refrigerator. Shake several times right before serving over salad.
Keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator.
1/2 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 bunch watercress
1/4 small bunch chicory
1/2 head romaine lettuce
2 Tbs. minced flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbs. minced chives
4 Roma tomatoes
, peeled, seeded and 1/4-inch dice
16 oz. roasted, smoked turkey breast, medium dice
6 strips nitrate-free good-quality bacon, fried and finely chopped
1 large, ripe Hass avocado
3 hard-cooked organic eggs, crumbled
2 Tbs. minced chives
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese
1/2 cup French Red Wine Vinaigrette
Cut iceberg, watercress, chicory, flat-leaf parsley, and romaine into a medium dice (between 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch), and arrange in a salad bowl.
Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and dice into 1/4-inch cubes and arrange over greens in a neat row; cut smoked turkey breast into a medium dice and arrange over chopped greens in a row, place chopped bacon in a row over greens; cut avocado in half, remove pit and cut flesh into small cubes and arrange over greens in a neat row; place crumbled egg over greens in a row, place Roquefort in a row over greens. Top with minced chives.
Bring salad to the tables and, right before serving, toss with 1/2 cup of French dressing and serve on chilled salad plates.