Monday, May 5, 2008

Cobb Salad: A California Import Given a Creole Twist

Cobb Salad was created at the Brown Derby by the manager Bob Cole. On page 153 of Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook is Crab and Shrimp Cobb Salad with Remoulade Sauce. Unlike the traditional Cobb salad that is dressed with chicken and cheese and a special Cobb salad dressing, Ralph Brennan's offering is presented with shrimp, crab and a corn relish with remoulade sauce.

Salad has had a roller-coaster ride throughout culinary history, at some points a desirable and practical dish and at others a suspicious and even potentially dangerous one. Lynn Olver's Food Timeline records that the ancient Greeks and Romans would dine on raw vegetables with a dressing of oil, vinegar and herbs. Greek physicians Hippocrates of Kos (c. 460 BCE-c. 370 BCE) and Galen of Pergamon (c. 129 CE-c. 210 CE) both recommended a diet of fresh vegetables as it was easy to digest. Further they recommended that salad should be the first course of a meal because salad wouldn't create obstructions for the latter courses. Foodies of the era argued that salad should be the last course as the vinegar dressing conflicted with the taste of wine.

Salad is a corruption of a vulgar Roman phrase herba salata meaning "salted herb." The dish fell into decline after the fall of Rome, though western Europeans continued dining on raw vegetables on fast days or for medical purposes. The Byzantine Empire continued the practice of salad and later reintroduced it to Medieval Europe via Italy and Spain, though vegetables would be picked or cooked.

During the Renaissance, the consumption of fresh vegetables simply was not done. It was feared that uncooked vegetables led to illness so vegetables were well-cooked, deriving the plant material of its nutrients. According to, Delmonico's Restaurant in New York began to offer salads to their high-end clients, making the dish a "wealthy" one in popular perception.

Arthur Schwartz of retells the story of the creation of the Cobb Salad as originally told by the Brown Derby itself:
"One night in 1937, Bob Cobb, then owner of The Brown Derby, prowled hungrily in his restaurant's kitchen for a snack. Opening the huge refrigerator, he pulled out this and that: a head of lettuce, an avocado, some romaine, watercress, tomatoes, some cold breast of chicken, a hard-boiled egg, chives, cheese and some old-fashioned French dressing. He started chopping. Added some crisp bacon -- swiped from a busy chef. The Cobb salad was born."
And it has proved popular indeed. According to the Brown Derby Restaurant Group, more than four million of the salads have been sold since 1937.

While not labor intensive to prepare, Cobb salad can be time consuming in order to get the correct taste. Ralph Brennan's New Orleans Seafood Cookbook advises preparing the lettuce three days in advance, the remoulade dressing two days in advance in order to permit the flavors to fully develop, and the remainder of the ingredients the day before serving.

The Food Timeline: "Salads" 03/22/08 "The Story of Salad's Success"
The Food Maven: "Original Cobb Salad"
photo courtesy of CP, used under this Creative Commons license

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