The Cobb salad is notable chiefly for being named after the owner of an old Hollywood restaurant, the Brown Derby, which was built in the shape of a brown derby hat. Well, bowler me over, this was Tinseltown in the 1930s. I’ll have mine with a side order of whimsy, please.
The chain closed in the 1980s, although the restaurant has since been recreated by Disney at its LA studios. The salad, variously attributed to owner Bob Cobb or his head chef, was supposed to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces after a long night’s service. It’s essentially a salade composée, a combination salad where the ingredients are neatly arranged rather than tossed together.
I’ve been experimenting with it because I’m barred from my kitchen while it undergoes a major facelift. Simple food it is, then. The aim was to incorporate asparagus for a recipe column due to be published in April. Reader, it didn’t work, which serves me right for messing with tradition.
It’s still quite a good a main course salad for two or more people. Because it’s usually arranged on a platter or in a largeish bowl for prettiness I wouldn’t bother faffing if you’re cooking for one, although as individual diners mix it together on their plate in the end, there’s no reason you couldn’t make a solo version.
What follows are guidelines rather than a full-on recipe (see above re kitchen renovations).
Here’s what I’ve learned
Forget the asparagus. The imported stuff is tasteless and adds nothing, the good stuff would largely be wasted when English asparagus comes into season in late April. Savour it for itself.
Use ripe avocado and a decent quantity of a good blue cheese. Their creaminess is essential to bring the salad together. Roquefort is traditional but I used Fourme d’Ambert because I love it so much. The recipe has been tweaked endlessly over the years but other toppings usually include quartered hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, chicken and crispy bacon lardons. Don’t skip the bacon as that crunch really helps.
For two, apart from the superfluous asparagus I used one cooked chicken breast, around six rashers of streaky bacon, half an avo, about six small tomatoes and two eggs. I should have used more cheese. Maybe 130-150g?
The toppings sit in neat rows (or however you want to arrange them) on top of roughly chopped salad leaves. Use a mixture. Traditionally and depending on which origin story you read, there should be a crisp lettuce, chicory and watercress.
I subbed a handful of baby spinach for the watercress and used one chicon of red endive and one ruby-tinted Little Gem. It was a gracious plenty for the pair of us.
Again, it’s been amended in the past 80-odd years but originally it’s said to have been a red wine vinaigrette with mustard, garlic and a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
I used red wine vinegar, a good olive oil (about one third/two thirds), a teaspoon of Dijon, salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar. I wish I’d remembered the garlic and Worcestershire sauce as the salad needs a bit of a kick to stop it being bland.
Dress the chopped or torn leaves with enough vinaigrette to coat lightly and place in an even layer in a bowl or on a platter. Arrange the topping ingredients in neat rows, season to taste with salt and pepper, drizzle with a little more vinaigrette and serve the rest of the dressing on the side. Eat straight away.
So there you go, my version of a Cobb Salad. Old hat (pun intended) for American friends, perhaps less well-known in the UK.