Bensoir! It's me, Benjamin. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You may have read stuff I've written elsewhere, but here on my own blog as Ben Viveur I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others, so pretty much anything goes.

BV is about enjoying real food and drink in the real world. I showcase recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. And as a critic I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended. Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cobb Salad - a lesson in history and irony

Neccessity, so it's oft said, is the mother of invention.

It's certainly the father of improvisation, the great-uncle of creativity, and perhaps a distant second-cousin of genius.

Everybody who likes to cook will be instantly familiar with the following scenario:

It's late, you're hungry, you've had too many takeaways lately, and you feel like cooking something. But all the shops are closed, so you have to throw something together based on the ingredients you happen to have in the house...

So, what do you end up eating? Fuck knows. It's different every time. Sausage omelette. Herring on toast. Quince and Clam pie. Sometimes it's bad, sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's actually so unbelievably good that you turn it into a proper recipe and make it again and again and again for the remainder of your days.

The quest for inspiration

A few weeks ago, in this very situation, I created a salami and aubergine tagliatelli dish which surprised us with it's absolute deliciousness. Once I've made it again and maybe refined the recipe, I'll blog about it. You'll like it, I'm sure.

The story of how the Cobb Salad was invented, if the legend is true, runs very much along these lines: Hotel chef in the 1920s makes himself something to eat in the middle of the night based on whatever  he could find in the kitchen, and it's so tasty that he makes it again for everyone the following night, the hotel gives it's name to the dish, bags shitloads of free publicity and history is made.

80-odd years later restaurants in America still have Cobb salads on their menus - and rightly so. It's a great salad.

Of course the irony is that once a dish born out of convenience becomes established, the probability of having all the requisite ingredients to hand when the same situation arises in the future is astronomical. In order to make the dish again.

Something that came about because of a lack of forward planning now requires forward planning in order to do it again! Sometimes life is pure nonsense poetry. Only with fewer Quangle-Wangles.

So here's my take on the classic Cobb. And if you just happen to have all these ingredients lying around right now, you've been struck by philosophical lightning!

Cobb Salad

Ingredients - makes two main-course servings

Avocados, 2, de-stoned and sliced
Chicken breasts, 2, grilled and sliced
Unsmoked bacon (back or streaky), about 6 rashers, fried or grilled until crispy and broken into bite-size pieces
Vine Tomatoes, 3-4, sliced
Romaine lettuce, several leaves, roughly shredded
Watercress, several clumps
Blacksticks Blue cheese, about three ounces, crumbled.
The all-important bottom layer!
Hardboiled eggs, 4, halved or sliced.

A sprinkling of fresh chives, chopped

For the dressing:

Red Wine Vinegar, 3 tablespoons
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 2 tablespoons
Dijon Mustard, 1 tablespoon
Lemon juice, 1 tablespoon

(Note: If you can't get Blacksticks, most bluey cheeses will work here, but avoid anything really strong and overpowering)


It's somewhat advantageous to make up the dressing and prepare and chop all your ingredients in advance before assembling on the plate, but if you cook the chicken and/or bacon last, you'll have the option of serving it while these components are still warm.

The key to a successful Cobb Salad is all in the plating up: Lay rectangles of (from left, to right) Romaine, Avocado, Watercress and tomato so that they form a sort of stripey square upon the plate - if you have square plates then even better!

That's quite a salad you made there, Mr. Cobb!
 Once you're reasonably happy with the bottom layer, repeat as required for any other diners until you've used up all the ingredients for this layer, then you can move on to the upper section.

To ensure variety on the plate, the top layer goes on at a right-angle to the bottom one, which means you get a different combination of components in every bite.

Which came first - the chicken or the egg? In this case it's the chicken, followed by egg, bacon and blue cheese in that order. If you've got everything right, you'll have chicken on top of lettuce in one corner of the plate, and cheese atop tomato at the opposite corner.

Now all that needs to be done before serving is to whack on a few chopped chives and drizzle some dressing over the top.

And there you go - what a salad! The bottom layer gives you four of your five-a-day, the top layer is full of tasty bits and pieces and the dressing should be nice and tangy.


1 comment:

  1. Not much of a salad fan myself but this is just a beautiful piece of writing


Comments are always welcomed and encouraged, especially interesting, thought-provoking contributions and outrageous suggestions.