Even though I’ve got family in southern California, I’ve always felt that Los Angeles has an uncanny quality to it—something that makes the city feel like it isn’t quite real. Maybe it’s the lack of seasons, or the palm-tree-lined boulevards, or the general happy/healthy vibe (people are… smiling? They… don’t wish death upon every stranger they see?). Or maybe it’s because I once spent a week “taking meetings” out there—i.e. having five lunches at five different bougie restaurants—and at every single lunch, I kid you not, everyone at the table (except me) would order a Cobb salad.
When I think about it now, the orders made a certain kind of sense. You don’t want to eat too heavy at a power lunch (another odd thing about L.A.: people still have power lunches!), but you also don’t want to come across as overly ascetic. Enter the Cobb, a muscular concoction that checks every necessary box: rich but virtuous, simple but colorful. A Cobb can be strictly traditional, but its basic form is adaptable enough to accommodate all sorts of additional ingredients; the only things that are non-negotiable, in my mind, are the presence of avocado, bacon, and some kind of blue cheese.
All three are accounted for in the original Cobb salad recipe, as codified in the 1930s by the Brown Derby restaurant—which is, of course, in Los Angeles. Nonnie’s take on the salad is fairly close to the Brown Derby’s, from the variety of lettuces used to the “French dressing” that ties it all together—not, thank God, the disgusting, ketchup-y, orange goop we associate with that term, but a slightly souped-up vinaigrette. Any L.A. macher would be happy to broker a deal over it—preferably while sitting next to a very out-of-place east coast transplant.
Lettuce [Since Nonnie didn’t specify which kind, I used regular iceberg—déclassé and nutritionally negligible, but so crunchy!]
Watercress [I went to two grocery stores and couldn’t find any, so I subbed the baby spinach I already had in my fridge—a totally different flavor, but at least it added some more color to the blend. If I had to substitute it again, I’d try arugula instead, which has a stronger bite]
Chicory [a term that here refers to a bitter green, like endive or radicchio or frisée—not the stuff they use to make coffee in New Orleans]
2 cups diced, cooked chicken [want to know my favorite way to cook chicken these days? Click the link; the results are unreal]
6 strips bacon, cooked crisp [make that in the oven too!]
2 hard-boiled eggs [super easy to make in an Instant Pot! Although if you undercook them like I did—four minutes at high pressure, then an immediate manual release—you’ll get slightly runny-yolked eggs instead, which taste even better]
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tomatoes, peeled and diced [given the state of grocery store tomatoes this time of year, I made another substitution here: a handful of cherry tomatoes]
1/2 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese [naturally, the most expensive of the blues]
Special French dressing, recipe below.
Chop salad greens into very small pieces and place in salad bowl. Add chives, chicken, sliced eggs, diced avocado, and tomatoes. Spread cheese on top. Chill. Just before serving, toss with French dressing.
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup salad oil
Combine all ingredients and mix well with a whisk. Cover and chill. Shake or mix well before using. Makes 1 1/2 cup.
The verdict: I was expecting to like the salad, but worried that the dressing would be overly oily. I shouldn’t have: as written, the dressing is actually surprisingly punchy, though it could have used more of everything besides the vinegar, oil, and sugar. Even when I added a whole clove of garlic, it still wasn’t particularly assertive—though at least it had enough acid to balance out the salad’s multiple fatty ingredients.
Speaking of which: it takes a decent amount of time to assemble and prep all those bits and pieces, longer than you might be willing to spend on making a salad. Persevere, though, and you’ll be rewarded with the most powerful of power lunches—or a surprisingly satisfying dinner. And you won’t even need to sit through an hour of glad-handing to get it.