Today is Julia Child's birthday! Lisa, at Champaign Taste, extended an invitation several weeks ago, asking bloggers to celebrate by cooking a recipe from one of Julia's cookbooks. Go to her site to learn about the other bloggers who are celebrating Julia's birthday. It was a great idea Lisa!
It was hard for me to decide what to cook. Should it be a cake? Or maybe one of the recipes my mom and I adored, like Fish Souffle On A Platter? But, I finally settled on a recipe for Cobb salad from Julia Child and More Company.
I've never made this recipe for Cobb salad. Julia's recipe is the one dreamed up by the owner of The Brown Derby, back in the 1930's. The story goes that he needed to feed some guests after-hours at the Brown Derby, and was forced to scrounge around in the refrigerator. He came up with various odds and ends, including four different types of lettuce, roquefort, bacon, and avocado, which he chopped up in a very fine dice. The rest is history. It was an immediate success when introduced to the public.
Once again I didn't pay attention to the helpful instructions advising that most of the chopping and poaching and so forth could have been done well in advance. Instead, I strolled into my kitchen several hours before dinner and began washing greens, spinning them dry, and chopping, chopping, chopping. I poached chicken, fried bacon, made vinaigrette, and peeled tomatoes. Before long my back began to hurt. But, I did it just like Julia specified. Or I tried. I know my ingredients weren't chopped as fine as hers. But, look who she had helping her! The book shows a kitchen full of experts, including a very young Sara Moulton.
Here are my bowls of ingredients, all nicely chopped. I discovered that a garlic press produces finely minced hard boiled eggs exactly the size Julia wanted. But mincing roquefort makes a big mess. It sticks together and I wound pinching off little bits of it into the egg mixture. That wasn't too bad, because I got to lick the cheese remnants off my fingers when I finished doing that.
Finally, I was ready to build the salad. As for serving, some people make individual salads, lovingly decorated. That's nice but all wrong, in my opinion. Here's why. The REAL way to serve a Cobb salad is as follows: Put your greens in a large bowl and painstakingly decorate it on top with your reserved ingredients. Then yell that you're serving the salad NOW and everyone damn well better get in to eat it because you aren't waiting for them. Your back hurts, you're hungry and you aren't going to put up with that dilly dally nonsense where they stroll to the table at their leisure. Once everyone is assembled, looking uneasy, smile at them genially, easing their fears, and present the salad for viewing. They will exclaim and bestow profuse compliments on your work of art.
Serve the salad and eat it. Suddenly your back feels better and your mood improves dramatically. It was clearly worth all the effort because it's one of the best salads you've ever eaten! As usual, Julia always knows best.
Bon Appétit, Julia. I miss you. Say hi to my mom.
Cobb Salad (Julia Child from Julia Child & More Company)
1/2 head fine green iceberg lettuce
1 small head chicory
1/2 head romaine
1 medium bunch watercress, to make a cup or so of leaves and the tender stems
2 poached chicken breasts
fresh ground pepper
6 slices cooked bacon
3 hard boiled eggs
2 TB minced fresh chives, or the white part of scallions, or a mixture of shallots and parsley)
2 ounces (60 grams) real roquefort or best-quality blue cheese
2 medium sized good ripe tomatoes
About 1 cup plain vinaigrette
Preliminaries (done hours beforehand)
Separate leaves of salad greens, discard tough or witled parts of them. Wash leaves and spin dry; wrap loosely and refrigerate. Pull off the leaves and small tender stems of watercress from tough stems. Wash and wrap in a damp paper towel and place in the fridge.
(See instructions below for poaching the chicken.) Cut the chicken breasts into a fine dice by cutting into thin slices, then into strips, then into a fine dice. Toss with a little oil, salt and pepper, and set aside in a bowl. Mince bacon and set aside. Mince eggs (I used a garlic press) and season with salt and pepper and set aside. Dice the cheese in the same size as the eggs and place cheese in the bowl with the eggs. Mince the chives or scallions and add them to the egg/cheese mixture. Set aside. Blanch the tomatoes for about 15 seconds in boiling water (or hold over a gas burner), then peel skin off--place in a bowl and set aside.
Half an hour before serving
(Items that wilt if done sooner)
Choose a big salad bowl with enough room for tossing.
With a large sharp knife, cut the salad greens into a fine dice--about 3/16 inch or 1/2 cm--by cutting narrow julienne strips, stacking them together and cutting--as done for the chicken. Place greens in a bowl and add minced watercress. Cut the tomatoes in half and gently seed and squeeze to remove liquid. Chop fine and set aside in a bowl after adding salt and pepper. Halve the avocado, remove seed and peel, dice it fine like the tomatoes. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with lemon juice and salt and pepper.
Just before serving
Whisk the vinaigrette and toss about 1/3 of the minced greens with the dressing, taste for seasoning. Arrange the rest of the ingredients on top of the greens. Present at once to to the table for admiration, then toss salad with abandon at the table.
Note: If yu aren't going to serve the salad immediately, assemble it without putting any of the dressing on the salad. Wait until just before you are going to serve it to pour on dressing.
Poached Chicken Breasts
Poach chicken breasts in 1/2 cup dry white wine and enough water just to cover them. Add a bay leaf, a finely chopped shallot, 3 parsley sprigs, 4 peppercorns, and 1/'2 Tablespoon of salt. Bring just to the simmer and cook for 10 minutes until meat is springy to the touch. Let cool for 30 minutes in the cooking broth, then drain, wrap and refrigerate.
4-6 TB good wine vinegar and/ or lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp dry mustard
12 TB olive oil
Optional: 1 tsp chopped fresh herbs to taste, minced garlic clove or shallots
Beat vinegar, salt, pepper and mustard until dissolved. Add the oil and seasonings. Sir to recombine when you dress the salad.