How To Make A Modern Chef's Salad

The classic chef's salad gets a modern makeover

This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.

Questions to ponder on a summer day: If a chef makes a salad, does it count as a chef's salad? Do chefs eat salad? What the heck is even in a chef's salad? Can you put apricots on it?

Answers: Sometimes, yes, what's on it (not in it) is a matter of personal preference and heck yeah (we did—see the recipe right here). But there are a few rules to consider, tossed in with a small slice of history.

The origins of the once-popular but unceasingly delicious chef's salad are a matter of dispute. Some credit Victor Seydoux at the Hotel Buffalo in Upstate New York or Jacques Roser of New York City's Hotel Pennsylvania with its creation.

Or you might chew on the version that was popularized by Louis Diat at New York City's Ritz-Carlton in the 1930s. It was anything but on the light side: "Chef's salad. Place separately in a salad bowl equal amounts of chopped lettuce (place on the bottom of the bowl), boiled chicken, smoked ox tongue and smoked ham, all cut in julienne style. Add ½ hard-cooked egg for each portion. Place some watercress in the center and serve with French dressing."

Though the ox-tongue addition has fallen out of favor in recent years, some contemporary chefs still love and cleave to its fundamental elements: strips of meat, cheese and egg atop (not mixed into) some manner of greens and a dressing. The rest is all you.

Chef and author Hugh Acheson shares a short manifesto on the subject with us: "To me, the chef's salad should not be a scraps pile of the fridge but rather a complete meal in salad form."

He continues, "The contents of the salad are really up to you, but there are some foundational players that always should be on board: boiled eggs, Parisian ham, tomatoes, cucumbers, some sort of cheese and leaves from small crisp lettuces. And it is an assembled salad, not a chopped salad. Components should be elegantly separated with the lettuces as a base and all other ingredients perched on top."

New Orleans chef Isaac Toups believes just as heartily in the canon of ingredients and the abundance thereof, and jokes, "I like mine so loaded that it's barely a 'salad.'" His preference is Benton's ham, Hook's cheddar, boiled eggs (but just the yolks) and hearts of palm atop butter lettuce, lashed with smoked paprika dressing and garnished with crushed cracklings and pickled jalapeño.

Of course, TT's salad mavens can't resist putting their own spin on the dish. Associate food editor Katy Peetz stays true to the sectional meat/egg/cheese/greens construct, while offering a fresh take on the accoutrements. She loads thinly sliced American ham, Swiss and cheddar, rotisserie chicken and soft-boiled eggs in segments onto a torn, three-lettuce mix, interspersing them with segments of Sun Gold tomato halves, seeded crackers and jicama sticks, rye bread croutons and quartered apricots for surprisingly welcome sweetness.

And to bring it all together, Katy whisks crème fraîche, mayonnaise, mustard, vinegar, ketchup and herbs together into a homemade Thousand Island that'll make even the most salad skeptical say, "Oui, chef!"

Whee, chef. Now go get your salad on.