L.A.’s Star Salad

Cobb salad with heirloom tomatoes, Applewood-smoked bacon, roquefort, grilled chicken and farm eggs

Remember that famous episode of “I Love Lucy” where Lucy and Ethel are in Hollywood, and they go to The Brown Derby to look for stars? They see William Holden in the booth next to them, and through the usual hilarious misadventures, wind up causing Mr. Holden to take a pie in the face. (It’s the same episode where Lucy later catches her nose on fire while lighting a cigarette…)

Back in the day, The Brown Derby was not only the place to see the stars — it was where L.A.’s greatest salad was invented. Go watch that episode of “I Love Lucy” again, and you’ll see it was a Cobb Salad that Bill Holden ordered. Created by the restaurant’s owner, Bob Cobb (cousin of baseball great, Ty Cobb), it’s one of those magnificent salads where all the components fit perfectly like a puzzle — crunchy lettuce, crisp bacon, velvety avocado, rich eggs, tender chicken, sweet tomatoes and salty bleu cheese.

I’ve seen this salad made with all kinds of other random ingredients — corn, cilantro, seared ahi, chipotle-this-or-that… I’m not one for screwing with a classic. I will offer my usual advice, however — the better your basics, the better the finished dish. So I use heirloom tomatoes, Applewood-smoked Niman Ranch bacon, a good Roquefort cheese, eggs from my own chickens… This recipe serves two, like in the picture.

Cobb Salad

1 medium head romaine lettuce
1 chicken breast, sprinkled with salt an hour before cooking
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 avocado
2 eggs
3 strips bacon, cooked (save the fat)
1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
flaky sea salt and pepper

Cook the chicken breast in the reserved bacon fat over medium heat, turning once or twice, for about 15 minutes or until firm. Chop the romaine lettuce up. Place on two plates. You’ll arrange the rest of the salad on top of the lettuce. You’re welcome to get mavericky and do it your own way. But here’s how I arranged my Cobb salad in the photo. Slice each egg in four, and place two wedges at two corners of your salad. In the other corners, place half an avocado, sliced, and your tomato halves. Slice your chicken breast into strips, and arrange half the strips on each of the salads. Break up some bacon and scatter it on top of the chicken strips. Then scatter some crumbled bleu cheese over the salad.

For the dressing, in a small bowl combine the mustard and vinegars. Stir the oil vigorously into the mustard vinegar mixture until thoroughly combined. Drizzle over your salads. Finish each salad with a sprinkling of flaky sea salt and a few grinds of fresh pepper.

Wine suggestion: a crisp New Zealand sauvignon blanc (that’s for you, Emma)

*Stay tuned for the next installment of my “Great Salads” series — the Cobb’s southern cousin, the famous Caesar salad of Tijuana, Mexico, complete with a dressing shortcut based on none other than mayonnaise!

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. monica
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 19:15:54

    I love it!! I always add a bit of Tapitio to my dressing for an extra zip….love the site Sean!


  2. scolgin
    Aug 31, 2010 @ 19:20:14

    Tapitio, huh? That’s a revision I just might be able to get behind!! Thanks Monica.


  3. Lisette
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 03:25:11

    Maybe I could even make that. I’m going to try it.


  4. Greggie
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 03:26:44

    It’s coincidental that you featured Cobb Salad today as I had one of the best restaurant ones yesterday at Cravings on Sunset Strip. I agree to keep it to the minimum and not add too many ingredients or dressing that it becomes soupy. My major complaint about prepared Cobbs is when the lettuce is not chopped. You should be able to eat it without cutting or having to look down at the salad. This was one of the reasons it was so popular with the Hollywood crowd. They could maintain eye contact during business lunches.

    I also knew Peggy Cobb, Bob & Sally’s daughter. She was the PR director for many years at St. Anne’s Home (later & Conference Center) and worked with many nonprofits. I know she retired but don’t know if she’s still around. I think her mom Sally died in 1998.


  5. scolgin
    Sep 01, 2010 @ 14:09:19

    Great story, Gregg — thanks! See, I knew there was a good reason for doing this blog! “I know a guy who knows a guy who knew the daughter of the guy who invented the Cobb salad!” Close enough to greatness for me…


  6. Lisa Gaskin
    Sep 03, 2010 @ 02:11:59

    do you think skinny girls will eat bacon? or bleu cheese? I love Cobb salad, and being a skinny girl who hates mayonnaise and HAS been a yoga student…I just haven’t gone there for years…good thing about this blog is we remember what we’re missing and wonder about making room for it in our layers and layers of discipline and abstinence… 😉

    I’m going to make a Cobb salad this weekend.


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