Caesar, Waldorf and Cobb: Three classic American salads

Mina Holland
by Mina Holland  |  15 May 2013  |   2 comments

Far from your average side salad, the indulgence of these American salads makes them perfect for the centrepiece of a meal.

Caesar, Waldorf and Cobb: Three classic American salads

The basics

The land of plenty, so regularly associated with greasy fast food outlets and a marked absence of its own culinary heritage, has actually given the world a lot by way of salad. These three Stateside salads are riddled with New World history, demonstrating that American food culture was not just inherited but burgeoned in its own right.

What’s more, there’s a distinctly American twist to all three. While salads elsewhere might be said to complement a main dish, the variety, creaminess and protein-rich qualities of the Caesar, Waldorf and Cobb means they can all be enjoyed as a main meal on their own.

Caesar salad

Caesar salad recipeCaesar salad is the darling of many a modern menu, and though nowadays dressed up (no pun intended) for discriminating eaters, its roots are very humble. It was named after Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant restauranteur who split his business between southern California and Tijuana in Mexico, which enabled him to dodge the restrictions of US prohibition. The story goes that Tijuana business was so good on 4th July 1924 that the kitchen ran out of everything except lettuce, cheese, bread, and the wherewithal for an egg-based dressing with a kick of Worcestershire sauce.

 Unsurprisingly, the original would have been a much simpler entity than that of today. The (now essential) inclusion of anchovy is a modern addition, for example, as are the chicken, bacon, capers, tomatoes and whole host of possible extras. With modern day concerns about salmonella, not to mention our preference for food that is quick and easy, substitutes for the coddled egg dressing base described by Julia Child have come in: “I remember most clearly ?the eggs going in, and how he tossed the leaves so that it looked like a ?wave turning over.” Jamie Oliver recommends crème fraiche (which I prefer, with a little mayonnaise, in my recipe) and Sam Stern uses yoghurt in his new book Virgin to Veteran.

Caesar salad recipe

Waldorf salad

If, like me, you’re a fan of Fawlty Towers then you will struggle to forget the ingredients of the Waldorf Salad, drummed into Basil by an irascible American guest who’s determined to order off-menu: “Celery! Apples! Walnuts! Grapes! In a mayonnaise sauce!” It was invented by the maitre d’ of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, Oscar Tschirky, as a light meal in the late nineteenth century. It had really made it by the 1930s, however, when it won a mention in Cole Porter’s “You’re the top”  

It’s a delightfully simple recipe, the ingredients chopped, mixed with mayonnaise, lemon juice and seasoning and placed on a bed of Cos lettuce. Many chefs have glammed it up, like Delia who adds chicken, garlic and tarragon, and I’ve tried it with watercress and caramelised fennel. If in doubt, though, remember the “Waldorf Salad” episode of Fawlty Towers and make the classic version.

Cobb salad

Traditionally served with its ingredients lined up side-by-side in strips, the Cobb salad contains lettuce, tomato, avocado, bacon, grilled chicken breast, hard-boiled egg and blue cheese – all dressed with a red wine vinaigrette.

First created in the 1930s, the Cobb was, like the Caesar Salad, reputedly borne of limited ingredients when the owner of the Hollywood Derby restaurant, Robert Howard Cobb, hungrily mixed together some leftovers at midnight after a long evening’s work. And to delicious, highly-esteemed effect.

Like the Waldorf Salad, the Cobb also has a TV personality! It was featured in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, when a typically grouchy Larry David sets out to quash false claims about the salad’s creator.

Salad days

Though hardly the kind of salads to aid weight loss, the Caesar, Waldorf and Cobb offer mouthfuls of cold and crunchy indulgence with a garnish of modern American history.

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