My first Cobb Salad was the first of many I ate on the terrace of the Polo Lounge in the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was irresistible with its mosaic of ingredients that arrived at the table beautifully arranged on the plate. The tomatoes glistened, there was crisp bacon, diced chicken breast, hard cooked eggs, beautiful Roquefort blue cheese and of course, this being California, a diced avocado. The lettuce – a mix of iceberg, watercress, endive and romaine – was finely chopped—something I’d never seen before. The waiter would toss all these ingredients together and dress the salad with a French dressing. It was so perfectly Californian and almost as sunny. Devotees of the salad can thank the Hotel for keeping the recipe alive because its birthplace, a Hollywood shrine if there ever was one, closed years ago.
The Brown Derby had a guest list that read like a Who’s Who in Hollywood. Clark Gable proposed to Carol Lombard there. Rival gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons held court there. And the place ‘starred’ in an a never-to-be forgotten episode of “I Love Lucy” with William Holden and Eve Arden as foils for Lucille Ball’s comedy. It was actually a chain of restaurants with branches in Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Los Feliz but the original Wilshire Boulevard Brown Derby was the best remembered. It was hard to forget as the restaurants were shaped like a Brown Derby Hat.
|William Frawley, Lucille Ball and Willian Holden
at The Brown Derby
Now back to the “Lucy” episode. In it, William Holden ordered the Cobb Salad. Legend had it that one of the restaurant’s owners, Robert Howard Cobb, had the salad made up from leftovers for Theater Owner Syd Grauman, of Grauman’s Chinese Theater fame, who had had dental work done and couldn’t chew properly. The item became a regular on the menu of the Brown Derby. And since it was always one of my favorite things to eat, when I saw a recent article in Departures magazine, “The Best Cobb Salad in Los Angeles”, I stood up and took notice.
This version is an adaptation of Chef Jeff Klein’s recipe. Chef Klein plies his trade at The Tower Bar in the Sunset Tower Hotel, which is down the road from the former Beverly Hills location of the Brown Derby. What Chef Klein did was to switch out the chicken for lobster. What I did was to go with the Chef’s switch and take it from there. I added tiny little potatoes, and corn off the cob. While it’s not the traditional Cobb Salad recipe, it is an ideal thing to make right now while the lettuce, corn, tomatoes and lobsters are all at their best. One thing I omitted, actually in error, was the crumbled blue cheese. I’d rectify this if I were you, so I’ve included it in the recipe, if not in the photographs of the dish. The second thing I did was to serve the salad with a Buttermilk and Basil Dressing that put some creaminess on the salad. Now there are places where the blue cheese component has been folded into a dressing. But I think blue cheese is a fairly polarizing ingredient, especially in our house, so I’d leave your guests the option.
The salad is beautiful to look at and slightly involved but it’s worth every minute. None of the components are hard to master. It just requires a little forethought. I find it easiest to cook multiple items at the same time. I bake the bacon in the oven, make the hard-cooked eggs and boil the new potatoes all at the same time. And I saved myself a tremendous amount of time because Andrew sprung for cooked lobster, which eliminated having to steam the beasts. Even though Lobster is plentiful and relatively inexpensive, this is no budget dish. But this was for a very special luncheon at our house with VIP guests. While the bacon’s in the oven and the eggs and baby potatoes are on the stove, I quartered the tomatoes, and made the dressing. I saved slicing the avocado for last so it wouldn’t discolor. The Butter or Boston lettuce went on the plates and I arranged the components around the lobster on a large platter.
Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Lobster Cobb Salad
Serves 6. Takes 1 hr 15 minutes to make.
For the Salad:
1 ¼ to 1 ½ lbs. cooked lobster
2 lobsters 1 ½ lbs. a piece steamed for 12 minutes and cooled in a bowl of ice water.
2 heads of Butter Lettuce (Hydroponically Grown is excellent here)
12 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon cooked until crisp
3 ears of Corn, off the cob.
1 ½ lbs. Baby Potatoes
2 cups Cherry Tomatoes either halved or quartered.
2 Avocados, cubed
1 cup Crumbled Blue Cheese
4 hard-cooked eggs
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper
For the Buttermilk Basil Dressing:
¾ cup Olive Oil Mayonnaise
¾ cup Sour Cream
½ cup Fresh Basil Leaves
3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A few drops on Fresh Lemon juice
Sea salt to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Put the bacon strips on a rack and put the rack atop a sheet pan. Cook the bacon in the 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until crisp and brown.
3. While the bacon is in the oven, put the potatoes in a saucepan filled with cold water. Put them on the stove and let them come to a boil. Boil 8 to 10 minutes. Pierce potato to check for doneness. Drain potatoes and when cool enough to handle, cut them in half. Set aside.
4. Put the eggs in a saucepan filled with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and the minute it does, turn the stove off and leave the eggs in the water for 15 minutes. Empty out the water and replace with icy cold water. Remove the eggshells and slice the eggs into halves or quarters.
5. Now make the Basil Buttermilk Dressing: Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor with the metal blade attached. Puree on high speed until smooth. Salt to your taste. Refrigerate. You’ll want to serve this at room temperature so pull it out of the refrigerator 15 minutes before serving.
6. Once bacon is out of the oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and put the corn on a sheet pan in the oven. In 30 minutes, remove corn and, once it is cool enough to touch, shuck it. The corn silk will come off like magic. Then strip the corn from the cob. Set aside.
7. Assemble the salad. Put the lobster in the center of a large platter and make wedges of ingredients surrounding it. Place several pieces of Butter lettuce on plates. Let your guests plate their own salads. Pass the Buttermilk Basil Dressing.