ORIGINAL GREENS: THE COBB SALAD Saturday, November 26, 2011

The story behind the Cobb Salad is a familiar one. In fact, the story shares a creation myth with so many other signature dishes that one can sum it up thusly: Kitchen wants to impress important guest. Pantry, bare; ingredients, limited. Chef panics. Chef combines available ingredients on-the-fly. Chef prays. Guest, hungry, yet flummoxed by dish, eats. Guest loves dish. New dish born. New dish imitated. New dish to soon be ubiquitous.

The story’s formula details how what we now consider indispensable standards are born from what we call the “happy accidents.” And, without being more specific, that’s how an improvised salad became the Cobb Salad. Or so they say.

Which is fine, but we like to think of it analogically; we like to think of it like this: if salads were soups (c’mon, play along), then the Cobb Salad is a stew, and not just any stew, but a very hearty, very meaty one.

For tossed in the Cobb Salad is a variety of animal proteins: there’s chicken (grilled), egg (boiled, hard), avocados (sliced), bacon (lardons, diced) and, for good measure, cheese (blue, crumbled).

The greens, in this case, chopped ribbons of romaine lettuce, are simply the salad’s vehicle, the broth, so to speak, that unites the protein. Which leaves two remaining ingredients: the vegetable and the dressing.

Whether or not the vegetable (in this case, the tomato, which is, of course, not a vegetable at all, but a fruit) was chosen for its taste, its color or its mythic handiness is open to interpretation. But the dressing: that’s a regional decision, and, in Portland, we lightly dress our Cobbs with Ranch.

All you have to do is determine your appetite’s size. Do you want a half salad, or do you need a whole? Are you hungry (half, big), or are you hungry-hungry (whole, even bigger)?

Or, if you early enough, you can swap out the greens altogether and enjoy a Cobb omelet.