How to Make a Cobb Salad

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Cobb salad might have started with a handful of leftovers, but it's become a classic.

Salads don’t necessarily have a reputation for being filling and delicious, but the Cobb salad is different. It’s one of my favorite restaurant salads because it hits on so many levels. Between all the flavorful toppings, crisp lettuce and sweet-and-tangy vinaigrette, I leave feeling satisfied but light.

Once you master a few simple prep steps, you’ll find that you can make a great Cobb salad at home, too. Better yet, if you’re willing to be flexible with the toppings, the Cobb can be a great way to use up leftover meats and vegetables! The entire recipe is surprisingly easy to make, including the dressing, so let’s get started.

What Is a Cobb Salad?

Cobb salad is a type of chopped salad. Instead of tossing all the ingredients together, the salad is composed, and each topping is placed separately on the lettuce. Although the ingredients sometimes vary, it’s usually made with lettuce, chicken, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese and a red wine vinaigrette.

Why Is It Called a Cobb Salad?

Rumor has it that the salad was invented in the late 1930s at the Brown Derby restaurant in Los Angeles, California. Owner Robert Cobb found himself hungry and surrounded by leftovers. He put a little of this and a little of that on a bed of lettuce. The resulting salad was so delicious, he shared it with his friend Sid Grauman. Grauman came back asking for the “Cobb salad,” and before long, it was a favorite among movie stars and celebrities.

It landed on the menu at the Brown Derby, where it was prepared tableside. Part of the appeal was the spectacle of seeing a salad come together right in front of your eyes. Today, the salad usually comes prearranged, displaying strips of ingredients that you mix together in the bowl. The visual appeal is strong, but the flavors are what really set this salad aside. It’s smoky, savory, creamy, crunchy and salty, all at once.

What’s in a Cobb Salad?

A good Cobb salad contains lots and lots of toppings, all chopped up into bite-sized pieces. The lettuce base gets a burst of flavor and texture by using several types varieties—romaine, butter, Boston, frisee, endive or watercress—but you can use any type of lettuce you happen to have on hand. Just make sure to chop the lettuce into pieces that are small enough to fit on your fork.

As far as the toppings go, the classic preparation includes chicken, bacon, hard-boiled eggs, tomatoes, avocado and blue cheese. It’s important to cook the chicken, bacon and eggs far enough in advance to let them cool, as hot toppings will cause the lettuce to wilt. You can use any method you like to cook the chicken. We like pan-roasted or grilled chicken breasts to ensure the chicken stays juicy as it cooks.

Essential Tools for Making a Cobb Salad

For starters, you’ll need a large salad bowl ($34). We like bowls that have wide, sloping edges to give you plenty of room for creating a beautiful presentation. They also tend to make it easier to toss the salad before serving it.

Since this salad includes hard-boiled eggs, we also recommend an egg cooker ($30). It lets you cook seven eggs at a time, and creates perfectly boiled eggs every time. If you end up with leftovers, don’t worry; hard-boiled eggs are good in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Finally, now might be a good time to pick up an avocado slicer ($10). You could use a regular knife, but this gadget makes it super easy to create presentation-worthy slices for your salad.

How to Make a Cobb Salad

Ingredients

For the Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

For the Salad:

  • 6-1/2 cups torn romaine
  • 2-1/2 cups torn curly endive
  • 1 bunch watercress (4 ounces), trimmed
  • 2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium ripe avocado, peeled and chopped
  • 3 hard-boiled large eggs, chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue or Roquefort cheese
  • 6 cooked bacon strips, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Yield: 1-1/4 cup salad dressing and 6 servings

Instructions

Step 1: Make the dressing

This vinaigrette couldn’t be easier to make. Combine all the ingredients (except the oils) in a blender. With the motor running, gradually add the canola and olive oils in a steady stream to create an emulsification. Store the dressing in the refrigerator until ready to use. Give it a firm shake or whisk it before using it.

Editor’s Tip: The dressing can be made several days in advance. In fact, it’s good for up to two weeks in the refrigerator, so feel free to double the recipe if you want to have extra dressing on hand.

Step 2: Get choppin’

This is the only time-consuming part of this recipe, but it can be done in advance if you like. Store each ingredient separately in airtight containers until you’re ready to compose the salad.

We’ll start with the greens: Wash and chop the romaine, endive, and watercress. Make sure the lettuce is spun as dry as possible to keep it from wilting. Then, chop the chicken, tomatoes, avocado and eggs into 1/2- to 1-inch, bite-sized pieces. For the cheese and bacon, you shouldn’t need a knife at all; these ingredients should crumble in your hands.

Step 3: Compose and dress

Now comes the fun part! Toss the lettuces together and place them in a large bowl. Arrange each of the remaining ingredients in a pattern over the lettuce. You can make a line of each ingredient, or you can set piles of each in a circle around the bowl. If you’re feeling particularly lazy, feel free to sprinkle everything randomly, and the salad will still taste great!

Finish the salad by topping it with the chives. When you’re ready to eat, drizzle one cup of the dressing over the salad, serving the remaining dressing on the side if desired.

Editor’s Tip: If you’re making this salad in advance, assemble the salad without the dressing and avocado, adding these ingredients just before serving.

Nutrition Facts: 1 serving: 575 calories, 52g fat (8g saturated fat), 147mg cholesterol, 1171mg sodium, 10g carbohydrate (3g sugars, 5g fiber), 20g protein.

How to Make a Healthy Cobb Salad

Most of the ingredients in a standard Cobb salad are pretty healthy already. Chicken is a lean source of protein, hard-boiled eggs are filled with vital nutrients, avocados contain heart-healthy fats and tomatoes are a good source of the antioxidant lycopene. If you’re concerned with your fat or sodium intake, skip the cheese and bacon and add in vegetables like cucumbers or bell peppers.

When it comes to the salad dressing, you can do a few things to lighten it up. To make a dressing that’s low-carb and keto-friendly, skip the sugar and Worcestershire sauce. You could also use 100% olive oil to adhere closer to the Mediterranean diet, although it will have a stronger flavor if you skip the canola oil.

How Long Will the Salad Last?

A dressed salad gets soggy very quickly, so don’t add dressing to more salad than you can eat in one sitting!

Meal prep this salad by layering the ingredients as instructed in the directions, skipping the avocado (it becomes brown when exposed to oxygen). Then, cover the bowl and store it in the refrigerator. If you spun the lettuce very dry, the salad can last in this state as long as five days. When you’re ready to eat, add the avocado and dressing.

Ready for a spin on the classic recipe? Give one of these Cobb salad recipes a try.

Recipes for People Who Love Cobb Salad
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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.