The Cobb Salad is a standard on most restaurant menus and over the years I’ve probably made thousands of them.
The salad originated in the 1930s, when Robert Cobb — the owner of Hollywood’s famed Brown Derby Restaurant, which was located on Vine Street just off Hollywood Boulevard — reportedly was scrounging through the restaurant’s kitchen after midnight looking for a late night snack.
He threw together whatever leftovers he could find — including diced cooked chicken, bacon, hard boiled eggs, avocado and tomatoes — into a quick salad. Sid Grauman, the owner of Chinese Theater down the street, happened to be with Cobb that night and the next day came in asking for the “Cobb Salad” he had enjoyed the night before.
Word of the salad began to spread in Hollywood and soon movie stars, studio executives and other customers began to ask for the salad regularly. Reportedly Jack Warner, head of Warner Brother’s, dispatched his chauffeur to pick up one of the salads frequently.
There actually were a few different Brown Derby restaurants and the original on Vine was not hat-shaped, but instead had a Spanish mission-themed facade. The famous derby-shaped restaurant was actually on Wilshire Boulevard. The restaurant still has several locations, most notably in Disney theme parks in Florida and elsewhere around the world.
And the Cobb Salad remains one of the most popular salads anywhere.
The Cobb Salad is basically the same thing as a chopped salad. Its ingredients can be arranged any way you like, but I usually opt for the straight lines because customers seem to enjoy its symmetry.
Traditionally, the Cobb Salad has chicken, avocado, tomoto, hard boiled eggs, bacon and blue cheese, served over a combination of Romaine lettuce and watercress. It usually is served with Cobb Salad dressing, which is sort of a thickened red wine vinaigrette.
In this version, I opted to leave out the bacon and replaced the blue cheese with queso fresco, which I happened to have on hand from this Mexican street corn recipe and I don’t like to waste food. I served mine with a Chipotle Buttermilk Dressing.
Making the Cobb Salad in a restaurant kitchen actually is much easier than the home version because you can prepare the ingredients in bulk. At home, you still have to prepare each individual ingredient, but only enough for a few salads, so the prep-time-to-salad ratio is a lot higher.
Still, Cobb Salad is a light, refreshing summer entree salad, especially for the kind of steamy, hot weather we have been having here in Chicago this year.
2 or 3 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts, grilled, cooled and diced
2 Avocados, peeled and diced
3 or 4 Tomatoes, ribs and seeds removed, diced
1 small Red Onion, diced
1 cup Blue Cheese (or in this instance, Queso Fresco), crumbled
2 or 3 Hard Boiled Eggs, rough chop
1/2 head Romaine Lettuce, cleaned and cut into bite-sized peices
4 or 5 Bacon Slices, cooked and chopped (I left these out on this salad)
Chipotle Buttermilk Dressing
1/4 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Buttermilk
2 Garlic Cloves, crushed
1 tsp Onion Powder
1 TBS Lime Juice
2 tsp Chipotle (roasted and smoked jalapenos), chopped
Fresh Cracked Black Pepper
2 TBS Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1. To assemble the salad, place the greens in the bottom of a salad bowl, then arrange the remaining ingredients in neat rows atop the greens.
2. To make the dressing, combine all ingredients, except the EVOO, in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Then turn the processor on and slowly add the oil, starting with one drop at a time, until the dressing thickens. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors have time to meld.
This recipe makes enough for two large, dinner-sized salads. I like to transfer the dressing to a squeeze bottle so that it is easier to dress the salads.
The Brown Derby plays a role in my all-time favorite celebrity spotting story. My dad was in Los Angeles on business in the 1960s and was dining at the Brown Derby when he literally ran into Jack Webb, star of TV’s “Dragnet”, because he didn’t see the diminutive actor standing next to him. I’m not certain if he ordered the Cobb Salad, but I’m betting he did.