Olivia Potts

Cobb salad: a bright idea for summer suppers

Illustration: Natasha Lawson

They do salads differently in America. Caesar salad, Waldorf salad, even their egg salads and potato salads: they’re big, they’re gutsy and often they’re the main event, not an afterthought shoved to one side. This is never more true than when it comes to the Cobb salad: a riot of colour and instantly recognisable thanks to its various components being plated in tidy rows.

The dish was invented at the Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant, probably in the 1930s, and is named after the owner, Robert Howard Cobb. Stories abound as to who exactly at the restaurant was responsible for the creation: was it Robert Kreis, the executive chef; Paul J. Posti, another chef; or Cobb himself? Remarkable, isn’t it, how many iconic dishes seem to be invented by rich men, with payrolled chefs, motivated only by their appetite and a lean fridge? Their hunger just gets the better of them, necessity becomes the mother of invention, and blammo! An American classic is born. Pity those poor chefs labouring away for years and years who fail to turn out a single memorable dish. I jest: as it happens, Cobb salad does have the flavour of a dish made up from bits and bobs in a fridge forage, and it’s more of an assembly job than high-skill technical cooking.

Its fun is bound up in those silly lines of ingredients. If it’s a plate of contrasts, let’s show that off!

But although it might look like your run-of-the-mill fridge-forage, chopped salad, an ad-hoc, higgledy-piggledy plate of leftovers, it’s actually a pretty clever combo, hitting all the notes and contrasts that you could want: crunchy and soft, juicy and crumbly, sweet and sour, savoury and tangy. It’s casual enough to look like a thrown-together lunch, but sufficiently satisfying to stand as a summer supper.

The rules are loosey-goosey for a salad like this, but there are, I think, some essential constituents: sliced chicken or turkey breast, crisp bacon, broken into shards, jammy boiled eggs, and chopped lettuce for bulk (and the impression of health).

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Olivia Potts
Written by
Olivia Potts
Olivia Potts is a former criminal barrister who retrained as a pastry chef. She co-hosts The Spectator’s Table Talk podcast and writes Spectator Life's The Vintage Chef column. A chef and food writer, she was winner of the Fortnum and Mason's debut food book award in 2020 for her memoir A Half Baked Idea.

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