~ A Classic Cobb Salad: Open-Faced Sandwich-Style ~
A restaurant that serves a great Cobb or chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent. Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top. The Cobb and chef's salads are both "composed salads", meaning, they are a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture. At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.
The making of a composed salad is: a cooking lesson unto itself.
While the Cobb and chef salad are both composed salads, they are distinctly different. Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi. It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette. That said, Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's. (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia.)
The Cobb salad (affectionately called the California Cobb) was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb. It's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners. Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated. Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item.
While a chef salad can contain any number of ingredients, the Cobb salad is quite specific. It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting. While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance. Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese. Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette pulls it all together.
My favorite version of the perfect classic Cobb salad...
Start with a chiffonade of ice-cold, crispy romaine lettuce topped with decoratively arranged thinly-sliced fork-tender, all-white meat poached chicken breast, and some chards of crispy oven-roasted bacon bits. Arrange some tender hard-cooked eggs (with bright yellow yolks -- no horrid gray halos), acidy tomato, mellow Hass avocado and sharp red onion atop or around the chicken. Sprinkle with a generous amount of tangy blue cheese crumbles and a few buttery French-bread homemade croutons. It's customary to serve it with red-wine vinaigrette and my recipe takes a back seat to none. That said, my husband prefers his Cobb salad with blue cheese dressing.
"Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes. It is derived from the French word "croûton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread usually served with drinks. "Croûte" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croûte" refers to food wrapped in or topped with a pastry crust then baked until the pastry is golden.
1 3-ounce, 6" long French demi baguette, trimmed lengthwise through the center to form 2, 1/2"-thick slices of 6" long bread
4 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Over medium heat, melt garlic powder and pepper into butter in a 10" nonstick skillet. Increase heat to medium-high and fry the bread, until lightly golden on both sides, turning only once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer bread to a paper-towel-lined plate to cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes. Do not over-crisp.
Note: Do not over-crisp the bread-slice crouton. Unlike croutons used on salad, these are best if they have a bit of chew to them, meaning: crispy yet soft enough to cut through with a knife.
Arrange about 1/2 cup chiffonade of romaine atop 1, 6"-long French bread crouton. Place 5-6 small poached chicken slices alternately with 5-6 small red onion rings on top of the lettuce. On top of the chicken and onions, arrange 3-4 thin slices hard-cooked egg, 3-4 thin slices avocado and 6-8 slices grape tomato coins. Garnish with some fried bacon bits or chards and blue cheese crumbles over all, drizzle with red wine vinaigrette and serve immediately.
Serve immediately with a nice glass of your favorite white wine:
Special Equipment List: cutting board; serrated bread knife; chef's knife 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels
Cook's Note: The 1905 salad. Never heard of it? You haven't traveled to Florida very often. The Columbia Restaurant, now a chain of six or seven restaurants (I've lost track) throughout The Sunshine State, is a fourth-generation family business that specializes in really good Spanish food at reasonable prices. Their signature dish is a chef's salad with a lemony vinaigrette -- it's one of my all-time favorites.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)