In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. For...Read More
Paleo Cobb Salad
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. In this column, we revel in old Hollywood glamour with a celebrity-worthy salad that was invented at the Brown Derby.
The Brown Derby opened on Valentine’s Day, 1929 and it soon became the place to see, be seen, and broker deals. Its proximity to the movie studios made it a comfortable hangout for stars and journalists. The restaurant was the first to offer table-side telephone service, and the number of calls an industry mogul received during his meal was a measure of his power in Tinseltown.
Infamous gossip columnists like Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper made the Brown Derby their unofficial offices. Its tables sported low-backed booths, making it all the easier to see who was out and about, as well as who was nuzzling whom and which starlet’s drink was thrown in a leading man’s face. Despite the risk of exposure (or maybe because of it), the studio stars felt at home there; many even received fan mail addressed simply to “The Brown Derby, Hollywood and Vine.” The Derby’s place in Hollywood lore was clinched when Clark Cable proposed to Carole Lombard there. She accepted, natch.
One late night in 1937, the Derby’s owner Robert Cobb was peckish. He and his pal Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fame) grabbed leftover ingredients from the restaurant’s massive refrigerator: salad greens, an avocado, cheese, cold chicken breast, a hard-boiled egg. According to legend, the bacon they added to their contraband was “swiped from a busy chef.” Grauman had recently visited the dentist and wasn’t chewing as well as he might, so they chopped everything into bite-size pieces before tossing the ingredients with a French vinaigrette. Unceremoniously and unintentionally, the Cobb Salad was born.
The gentlemen’s midnight creation was so tasty, when he arrived the next day, Sid Grauman requested a “Cobb Salad’ from his waiter, and it was eventually added to the menu. The salad was beloved by the Derby’s customers: Jack Warner of Warner Brothers Studios regularly sent his chauffeur to the restaurant to pick up a take-away Cobb for him, and by the time The Brown Derby closed in 1985, it had served about 4 million Cobb Salads.
While the salad’s notoriety grew in Hollywood, it also became popular across America. The country was just coming out of the Great Depression, and despite its Hollywood origins, the ingredients in the Cobb Salad were easily found down home on the farm: fresh produce, chicken, eggs, and bacon. For the same reasons, the Cobb fits right into the Paleo framework.
This version combines iceberg lettuce (for crunch) with baby spinach (for nutrients), but you can also swap in watercress, Romaine lettuce, or endive. The chicken is quickly roasted in the oven, but you could also throw the seasoned chicken breasts on the grill instead. Finally, I replaced the bleu cheese of the original with black olives to add a similar briny tang, without the dairy. If you’re primal, feel free to channel the spirit of Robert Cobb and add some local, organic bleu cheese.
The Cobb Salad is traditionally served untossed and undressed. The idea was to dazzle celebrity diners with an elegant composed plate they could drizzle with dressing themselves. If you’re up for it, you can make a pretty presentation at home—or you can do what I do when there are no paparazzi around: toss everything into a big bowl with dressing and grab a fork.
Classic Cobb Salad
Serves 2-4 | Prep 10 minutes | Cook 25 minutes
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 tablespoon ghee, melted
1 teaspoon dried chopped chives
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon coarse (granulated) garlic powder
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon dried chopped chives
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 head iceberg lettuce
1/2 pound baby spinach leaves (a few handfuls)
4 hard-boiled eggs, diced
4 strips bacon (nitrate-free, sugar-free for Whole30), cooked and diced
1 avocado, diced
1-2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 red onion, very thinly sliced
handful black olives, halved
Cook the chicken. Preheat oven to 400F. Cover a large baking sheet with aluminum foil and lay out the chicken in a single layer on the pan. In a small bowl, combine the ghee, chives, salt, tarragon, pepper, and garlic powder. Brush the chicken breasts with the seasoned fat and roast until golden and cooked through, 20-25 minutes
Prep the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard, chives, thyme, salt, and pepper until combined. Whisk continuously and slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
Assemble the salad. Arrange the salad ingredients on plates, top with warm or room temperature chicken, and drizzle with the dressing.
Here’s a fun way to remember all of the ingredients in this legendary salad: