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Wolfgang Puck: Main-course salad

Today, more and more people who love to cook and eat good food – not to mention who care about the well-being of themselves, their families and friends, and the planet on which we all live – are going organic. It just makes good sense.

When you grow fresh food in season in a natural way – without chemicals or pesticides that could possibly harm the environment or ourselves – you’re likely to pay more attention to its nurturing. The results, as I’ve seen them from dedicated organic farmers everywhere, are consistently outstanding produce with dazzling variety, appearance, taste, and nutritional value.

Who wouldn’t want to enjoy it?



My favorite way to enjoy organic produce when springtime comes around is in a big main-course salad. I love to go down to one of our local farmers’ markets in the Los Angeles area, or to my dear friends at Chino Farm near San Diego, and get an incredible variety of crisp, fresh-tasting, beautiful organic greens. You’ll certainly find them at your own area farmers’ market, and even in some enterprising supermarkets in smaller cities and towns.

Then celebrate springtime’s freshness with one of my favorite main-course salads, a Lobster Cobb, featuring organic leaves, tomatoes, the slender French-style green beans known as haricots verts, and other colorful and satisfying ingredients.



The Cobb is a classic Southern California chopped salad, spontaneously invented one night 70 years ago by Bob Cobb, owner of the famed (and now departed) Hollywood celebrity grazing spot, The Brown Derby. The only protein in his original version came from bacon, blue cheese, and egg; but innovative L.A. chefs had long since begun to embellish the salad with bite-sized chunks of leftover or freshly grilled chicken breast.

When I launched Spago back in 1982, it seemed like fun to make an extra-upscale version featuring freshly cooked lobster meat (you can also use precooked lobster from the market). I also lightened up the salad a bit, using vinaigrette in place of the usual French, Thousand Island, or Ranch dressings. To this day, the Lobster Cobb is still our most popular lunchtime salad – so much so, in fact, that even when we try giving it a rest from the menu our guests still insist on ordering it!

You can substitute chicken, grilled shrimp or salmon, or even steak for the lobster. If you want something closer to the original, make it with bacon alone; and, for a lighter version, leave out the cheese and the egg yolk and substitute maybe some chopped ham or smoked turkey breast for the bacon. Believe me, guests have requested every variation imaginable – and they’re all delicious, especially when you make the salad with the freshest springtime produce you can find.

Spago’s Lobster Cobb Salad

Serves 4

LOBSTER:

3 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces

1 medium onion, quartered

8 sprigs fresh thyme

1/4 cup (60 ml) white wine vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

2 lobsters, each 1 1/2 pounds (750 g)

COBB DRESSING:

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/3 cup (85 ml) walnut oil

1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

SALAD:

1/2 pound (250 g) sliced smoked bacon, chopped

6 hard-boiled eggs, chilled

1/2 pound (250 g) haricots verts or other small fresh green beans, trimmed, cut into 1/4-inch (6-mm) pieces

2 ripe avocados

2 hearts romaine, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch (12-mm) slices

1 small head watercress, stemmed and rinsed, leaves separated into bite-sized clusters

1/2 pound (250 g) mixed yellow and red grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

4 ounces (125 g) Roquefort cheese, crumbled

Salt

First, if using live lobsters, prepare them. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the celery, onion, thyme, vinegar, and black pepper, and boil for 10 minutes. Add the lobsters, cover, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, until the shells are bright red and the lobster is cooked through. Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with ice and water. With a large wire skimmer, remove the lobsters from the water and immediately immerse in the ice water to stop cooking. Shell the tail and the claws and cut the meat into 1/2-inch (12-mm) chunks. Set aside in a covered container in the refrigerator. Alternatively, buy a cooked lobster in the shell; shell the meat, cut it up, and reserve.

Next, prepare the dressing. In a mixing bowl, thoroughly whisk together the shallot, Dijon mustard, and vinegars. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oils to form a thick emulsion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside.

Prepare the salad ingredients.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. Then, with a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

Shell the eggs and separate the whites from the yolks. Pass each separately through a medium strainer or food mill and reserve in separate bowls.

Bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the haricots verts and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the water with a wire skimmer and immerse in ice water. Drain well and set aside.

Halve, pit, and peel the avocados. Cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) chunks. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, add the romaine and watercress and season lightly with salt and pepper. Add 1/3 cup (85 ml) of the dressing and toss. Divide the greens among 4 large chilled serving plates. Arrange the toppings in rows on top, starting at one side with the bacon, followed by the haricots verts, egg yolk, lobster meat, egg white, tomato, and finally the avocado. Sprinkle the cheese all over the top. Serve the remaining dressing on the side. Alternatively, in a large salad bowl, toss the greens with the other ingredients and enough dressing to coat, then mound salad on large chilled serving plates.


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