Archive for November, 2009

The Cobb

Monday, November 9th, 2009

First, where did the Cobb salad get its name?  We’re pretty sure it has nothing to do with corn.  The most popular stories link the salad’s creation to Robert H. Cobb, who owned the Brown Derby Restaurant in Hollywood in the 1930s.  Of the several variations on those tales, I like the one best in which Mr. Cobb has had painful dental surgery earlier in the day and asks his chef to prepare a salad with small pieces of whatever ingredients are then in the refrigerator.  The chef finds and then chops up a hard-boiled egg, iceberg lettuce, avocado, blue cheese, bacon and tomato.  Voila—the Cobb is born!   Thereafter, it becomes a signature menu item at the Brown Derby.

These days, the standard ingredients of a Cobb salad are pretty much the same as what Mr. Cobb’s chef concocted.  But there are major variations, on both the greens (romaine, arugula and mixed greens) and the toppings (including green onions and cucumbers).  The classic presentation of the Cobb is to arrange the chicken, blue cheese, bacon, tomato, etc. decoratively over the greens and then garnish the salad with the chopped egg.  Frequently, however, all the ingredients are tossed together with the dressing and then chopped up into bite-sized pieces, creating more of a “chopped salad” dish.

Mention Cobb salad to a Curb Your Enthusiasm fan, and you will likely hear about the episode in which Larry makes so many substitutions to his Cobb order that he calls it a “David Salad.”  In that same show, his friend Cliff Cobb claims that his grandfather invented the Cobb salad; an ever- skeptical Larry counters with:  “My grandfather’s name was Harold Bingo, and he invented Bingo.”

The film Julie and Julia contains its own Cobb salad scene.  There, the blogger Julie Powell joins her three high-powered girlfriends for a “ritual Cobb” lunch.  They all order a Cobb—but each asks that a different ingredient be left off her order.  That explains, at least in part, the popularity of the Cobb.  Like Elaine’s big salad on Seinfeld, it has “lots of stuff in it.”  But it is also totally acceptable to ask your server to forgo an ingredient, or even two.

For me, the most important component of the Cobb is the same as that of most other green salads:  the dressing.  Whether it’s a smooth balsamic vinaigrette or something with a little pizzazz like the creamy Gorgonzola[*] dressing at Sopprafina’s,  if the dressing is not freshly made and flavorful, what’s the point?  That being said, a worthy Cobb should minimally boast ice-cold lettuce pieces, accompanied by generous dollops of crisp bacon, roasted or grilled (not processed!) chicken pieces, chopped fresh tomato, diced hard-boiled egg and tangy blue cheese crumbles.  Put all that together with just the right dressing and—Bingo!

Yours till the lettuce leaves,

NJL

[*]Gorgonzola is one type of blue (or bleu) cheese.