Thursday, 4 August 2011

Cobb Salad: Bob Cobb's Lasting Legacy

I have no idea if this salad's supposed creator, Bob Cobb (seriously!) was trying to be rebellious when he came up with this dish, or if he just had a tendency toward fatty, luscious ingredients like bacon, avocado, and blue cheese. Was he all 'Salad? I'll show you tree-huggers a salad! I'm going to put everything that will make you fat (if not eaten in moderation) in this salad, and call it a salad, and it'll be a big middle finger to the whole salad world!'

Or maybe it came about because he truly did stumble into his kitchen in the middle of the night, after a big night out* (it was 1937, Hollywood, those parties must have been off the chain**) and throw a bunch of leftovers into a bowl, with miraculous results (this is what the internet says). Who cares though. This salad is super delicious and easy and perfect for summer. I know I've been saying things are perfect for summer a lot lately. Well maybe not with the mac and cheese. But it's always true when I say it. I never lie. About food.

Thanks, Bob Cobb.
Cobb Salad
Serves 5 or so

3 chicken breasts, boneless, skinless, poached    (see below for ingredients for poaching liquid and instructions on how to poach - poaching is wicked)
5 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
2 large avocados, sliced into thick slivers
2 large tomatoes, sliced into thick slivers      (oh man tomatoes are just hitting their stride here in Toronto - and there are few things better than a tomato that's grown nearby and actually tastes like an actual tomato, eh?)
Blue cheese, crumbled     (as I've said before, I truly feel like it's judgmental to tell you how much cheese to use - but I used about 3/4 of one of those blue triangle packages, just to give you a gauge)
Bacon, about a half pack, fried up and cut into kind of 1-inch pieces, ish
Romaine lettuce, sliced thinly, either one super big head of it, or two smaller ones

For the dressing:

Liquored-up friends digging in.
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 cup of olive oil
3 tbsp red wine vinegar
juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp of dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to your taste

For the poaching liquid:

about 2 cups of chicken stock   (I used a bouillon cube - which I do often - I find homemade chicken stock to be quite arduous and certainly not summertime friendly)
3 bay leaves
a small palmful of whole black peppercorns
a small palmful of coriander seeds
a small palmful of celery seeds
a small palmful of salt
a pan of water     (honestly, water is just fine - the other goodies I put in just added another layer of flavour but will not make or break this dish)

For the dressing, put all the ingredients in a small jar that will hold them and give them a good vigorous shake. Taste to see if it's working for you and set aside for now.

To poach the chicken, put your chicken in a pan with either the stock and ingredients or water, and bring to a boil. The liquid should cover your chicken breasts, in a single layer in your pan, by about an inch. Once it comes to a boil, turn things down to a simmer and let it go gently like that for about ten minutes. Turn off the heat after 10 or so, cover the pan, and let it sit in the hot water for another 15 minutes. It should be lovely, moist, and fully cooked through by that point. Chop the chicken into chunks and reserve it. You can do this a day in advance if you'd like. I sure did.

It would be kind of funny to serve a cobb salad just like this.
Now, this is all about assembly. A good, big platter is essential, as this is family-style and really pretty and impressive to bring out to some liquored-up pals waiting at your picnic table (oh, is that just at my place?).  Everything gets distributed on top of the shredded lettuce, and don't forget the blue cheese as I almost did.  Drizzle it all with the dressing and let people help themselves.

You can make every component of this dish well in advance and then simply arrange it on the platter when you're ready for dinner. Wait until the last minute to slice the avocados though, as they'll brown quickly.

*I added in the 'big night out' part, to make Bob Cobb sound like more a wild man. This detail is unconfirmed.

**There were no 'off the chain' parties in the '30's, it was the Depression, okay? But if there were, Bob Cobb would have totally been invited.

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