July 26, 2013

(A Careful and Composed) Cobb Salad

(A Careful and Composed) Cobb Salad
Earlier this week, I had an insatiable craving for a Cobb salad- a really good one.  I have had quite a few Cobb salads in my life and there are a few strong themes- I like grilled chicken, I like including avocado, I like a good green- although sometimes romaine hits the spot- and hard boiled eggs- well executed with nice yellow centers that haven't been cooked too long (which gives them a greenish color and sulfur-like smell).  Creating a well executed Cobb salad requires some precision and attention.  But, it's satisfying, relatively healthy, and a great summer meal.

Let's begin!  First, let's get our chicken marinating, so it can have a nice flavor.

Cobb Salad
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a part of a larger meal
Chicken Marinade
0.75 lb. to 1 lb. chicken tenders (skinless, boneless chicken breast cut into strips about 1.5" wide)
4 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
pinch (or two) sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large garlic clove, through a press or finely chopped

Other Salad Components
6 pieces of bacon
2-3 eggs
2-3 handfuls mache or other small, flavorful green
10-15 grape or cherry tomatoes
1/2 avocado
1/2 lemon
2-3 Tbsp. gorgonzola
8-10 olives
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Salad Dressing
1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. olive oil (good quality)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients of the chicken marinade in a bowl and add the chicken.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  I let the chicken marinate about 45 minutes to an hour.  You can do a little less or a little more- overnight might be too much.

Bacon pieces draining
Take your 6 pieces of bacon and cut them, perpendicular to their length, in pieces about 1/2" wide.  In a pan on the stove (that you'll also use to cook the chicken), cook the bacon over medium-low to medium heat.  When crispy and browned (to your liking), remove the bacon pieces and allow them to drain on a paper towel.  Save the pan with the bacon fat, you're going to use it to cook the chicken (why let it go to waste!).  If you're making this ahead of time, after the bacon is drained, refrigerate the bacon pieces until you're ready to put the salad together.

Now for the eggs.  Making hard boiled eggs is something of an exact science.  You want to do four major things- 1) keep the water at a simmer, not a roiling boil, 2) lower them into the water in some type of vessel that keeps them from moving around and breaking, 3) only cook them for about 12-13 minutes and 4) place them in an ice bath immediately following.  Why all these rules?  Well, back before my kids, I sat next to a guy at work that brought hard boiled eggs in for a snack pretty frequently.  Obviously, admired the habit- healthy, protein makes you feel fuller longer, not a bad idea at all.  But, he must have cooked them for years because they had that slightly bad sulfur smell of the yolk.  This is caused by overcooking.  Just say no!  Ok- bring some water to a simmer and lower 2-3 eggs (I used a wide mesh strainer to hold them) into the water.  The water should cover them, add more if you need to.  Leave them in there for 12-13 minutes, when you remove them (just by lifting the mesh strainer), place them into a bowl of ice water.  If you're making these ahead of time, let them cool before refrigerating them.

Lowering eggs into simmering water

Post boiling ice bath
I think we're ready to put together our salad!  The reason I call it a composed salad is because it isn't tossed and mixed together.  I like this sometimes, I think it makes really beautiful presentation and also, if one of your guests doesn't like a particular component, they can avoid it.

Remember your bacon grease?  Heat it over medium heat and take your chicken out of the refrigerator.  Heat your pan for a good 5 minutes or maybe a few more to really make sure it's hot before you start cooking the chicken in batches.  I did about 2.5 to 3 minutes per side.  This bacon grease may pop a little, so put it on a back burner to do this and your clothes and face can avoid any pops of grease!  Place the cooked chicken on a plate or cutting board to cool.  While all this is cooking, you can assemble your beautiful salad!

Wash and dry (paper towel or salad spinner) your lovely greens and remove any undesirable items.  I used mache, which I like very much, but it can wilt quickly.  So, either you can work fast or leave it until the end.  Place your greens in the first stripe on your platter.

Mache
Next, wash your tomatoes.  I used grape tomatoes and sliced them in half.  You may use any type of small or large tomatoes, just cut them to your desired size.  Place them carefully as your next stripe.

Mache and grape tomatoes
Take your eggs, remove the shells (carefully) and slice or chop.  You'll see that because you cooked them very carefully, the whites are not too firm or rubbery and the yolks are a lovely yellow.  Place the pieces of egg as your next stripe.

Mache, grape tomatoes and hard boiled eggs
Avocado is our next stripe, cut an avocado in half and remove the pit.  Use half of the avocado for something else- feed the baby with it, etc.  While still in the skin, use a knife to cut it (without piercing the skin) once length wise and then across several times so you are cutting it into neat pieces.  Now, gently peel the skin and empty the avocado half into a small bowl.  Dress it with juice of half a lemon.  Arrange the neat pieces as your next stripe on the salad platter.

Mache, grape tomatoes, hard boiled eggs and avocado
Using a spoon, arrange the gorgonzola as the next stripe.  (This is regular gorgonzola, not gorgonzola dolce).

Mache, grape tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, avocado and gorgonzola
Next, arrange the olives- I used Kalamata olives that still had their pits inside, you can use any type of olive, with pits or without.

Mache, tomatoes, eggs, avocado, gorgonzola and olives
Finally, our bacon stripe.

Mache, tomatoes, eggs, avocado, gorgonzola, olives and bacon

Combine the ingredients of the salad dressing in a mason jar, simply close and shake.  So easy, right?  Drizzle about 1/3 to 1/2 of the dressing over the salad.  Sprinkle a little salt and pepper.

Salad dressing made in a mason jar

Your cooked and cooled chicken is now ready- cut it into bite sized pieces and place it over the top of the salad.  Although I prepared 1 lb. of chicken, I used only about 0.75 lb. for the salad.  I saved the rest in the refrigerator for another meal.  Pour not quite all of the remaining dressing from the mason jar over the chicken, another tiny pinch of salt and pepper- and serve!  Enjoy.  This salad can have all its components made ahead of time and then you can just assemble it and serve- even the chicken.  Just refrigerate it after cooking it.

I hope you are all having happy and healthy summers!

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