From Hollywood’s Brown Derby restaurant and named for its owner, Robert Howard Cobb, the Cobb Salad is to Americans the original chopped salad. If you had it at the restaurant, you know it was a mix of very finely chopped watercress, curly endive, Romaine and iceberg lettuces topped with crisp bacon, hard boiled egg, tomato, chive, chicken breast, Roquefort cheese and avocado, served with a house-made “French” dressing that was more akin to red wine vinaigrette than the sweet orange goo labeled “French” on a salad bar. Our home-cook version is chopped less fine, but features all of the original ingredients. We’ve just updated the dressing, however, to make it less oily.
There’s some dispute about the recipe’s genesis. Was the first Cobb salad made by Cobb himself, when he was rummaging through the restaurant’s cooler to throw together a late-night snack in 1939, or, by the restaurant’s executive chef Robert Kreis? Or, perhaps more convincingly, was it first made for Cobb by French chef Henry Condouret, an executive chef at the 1939 World’s Fair, and one of the opening-team chefs for the Brown Derby? Reader Marisa Perry, Condouret’s grandaughter, thinks this might be so: that Condouret’s inspiration for the Cobb was the classic frisée au lardon salad, with the addition of blue cheese, tomato, chicken and avocado to make the salad filling enough to be an entree. Whatever the provenance, the Cobb is one of America’s longest-standing salad favorites, inspiring dozens of different renditions.