Restaurant owners who offer new dishes never know which ones will become so popular they can never take them off the menu without a customer revolt.
That was certainly the case in the 1930s, when the famed Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles starting serving Cobb salads. In fact, it became so popular that other restaurants around North America, not to mention home cooks, started serving it, too. Many still do.
According to the What’s Cooking America website, there are a few versions of the story of how this main-course salad was invented.
One suggests that Brown Derby restaurant owner/manager Bob Cobb was famished at the end of a long workday and scrounged around in the restaurant’s iceboxes to see what he could make. What he threw together was so delicious, a new salad was born.
Other stories say it was the restaurant’s chef, Robert Kreis, who whipped it up to feed the hungry Cobb, or that it was a salad he created by himself and named in honor of his boss.
To make a Cobb salad, the Brown Derby Cookbook, published in 1949, says to cut and arrange different types of salad greens in a salad bowl, then artfully arrange diced tomatoes and chicken, chopped bacon and pieces of avocado on top. The salad is then topped with chopped hard-boiled eggs, chives and blue cheese, such as Roquefort.
Just before the salad is served, which was first done tableside at the Brown Derby, it’s topped with french salad dressing and thoroughly tossed.
Modern versions of Cobb salad are most often beautifully arranged on a platter or in a shallow bowl, or on individual serving plates, which is what I did in my recipe. It’s then drizzled with or simply served with the dressing, not tossed with it.
For my recipe, instead of serving it with oil-based french dressing and topping it with blue cheese, I decided to serve it with a creamy dressing flavoured with crumbled Roquefort cheese. My other switch-ups were to top it with in-season B.C. radishes and slices of grilled chicken, not the boiled, sliced meat used in the original recipe.
This main-course salad makes a fine summer meal. My recipe serves four, but you could certainly cut the ingredient amounts in half to make it serve two, if desired.
Summer Cobb Salad with Roquefort Dressing
This main-course salad combines a range of complementary ingredients, including two types of lettuce, smoky grilled chicken, crispy bacon, rich egg, juicy tomato and ripe slices of avocado.
Preparation time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: about 10 minutes
Makes: four servings
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil, plus some for the grill
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp chili powder
2 (about 8 oz./225 g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (see Eric’s options)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 head butter lettuce, separated into whole leaves
1/2 medium head romaine lettuce, chopped
24 cherry tomatoes, halved
6 strips bacon, diced, cooked crispy and drained well
1 ripe avocado, quartered lengthwise, peeled, pitted and cut into thin wedges
4 hard-boiled eggs, cooled, peeled and quartered
6 to 8 radishes, sliced
2 green onions, sliced
• Roquefort salad dressing, to taste (see recipe below)
Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium-high. Combine the 1 1/2 Tbsp oil, smoked paprika, cumin and chili powder in a shallow bowl. Set in the chicken breasts and turn to coat. Season each breast with salt and pepper.
Lightly oil the bars of your grill. Grill the chicken five minutes per side, or until cooked through. Set chicken on a cutting board, cool to room temperature, then thinly slice each breast, widthwise.
Line four dinner plates with butter lettuce leaves. Divide and mound romaine lettuce in the centre of each plate. Arrange the chicken, tomatoes, bacon, avocado, egg, radishes and green onion on top of the lettuce. Let diners top their salad with the Roquefort salad dressing, to taste.
Eric’s options: Instead of grilling your own chicken, you could slice and use the meat from a grocery store-bought barbecue/rotisserie chicken in this recipe. Sliced leftover roast chicken will also work. You’ll need 1/2 cup or so of sliced chicken per salad.
Roquefort Salad Dressing
This classic, tangy blue-cheese dressing is in the style of the ones often served with wedges of iceberg lettuce in steakhouses in the United States. It also tastes great spooned on Cobb salad.
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: None
Makes: one cup
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp sour cream
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
• splash or two Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco
40 to 50 grams Roquefort cheese, crumbled (about 1/3 cup; see Note)
2 tsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Place mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Tabasco in medium bowl and whisk to combine. Mix in the Roquefort and parsley, if using. Taste dressing and season with salt and/or pepper, if required. Cover and refrigerate dressing until needed. It will keep about a week.
Note: Roquefort cheese is sold at some grocery stores. Other types of blue cheese will also work in this recipe.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.