This month, Tasting Table celebrates all things salad. Keep your cool with us.
In a world with an endless range of designer salad greens from which to choose, ranging from the speckled, delicate baby lettuces to Asian greens, such as mizuna and tatsoi, it's all too easy to forget about almighty iceberg lettuce.
While it has never been the greenest of the bunch—or the most nutritious, for that matter—iceberg deserves your respect. Why? One, for its sheer ability to be consistent in both flavor (or lack thereof) and texture. Two, its shelf life. And finally, the most important: because of the over-the-top, always satisfying, iconic wedge salad (see the recipe).
The wedge is iceberg's one-hit wonder—and let's face it, no other lettuce could do the wedge better, and no other lettuce should try. So back off, bibb, and don't you dare step any closer, romaine.
Iceberg lettuce is simply meant to be doused in an aggressive, high-calorie blue cheese dressing, loaded up with bacon and recognized as the only salad to be eaten with both a fork and a knife. And, those flavors and textures ignite some serious nostalgia.
"I think people connect with this dish because it has flavors from your childhood. Before all these fancy lettuces and microgreens, we had good, crisp iceberg lettuce," Billy Oliva, executive chef of New York's Delmonico's, says. "Eating a wedge salad takes the diner back to these simple, yet delicious flavors—smoky bacon, savory blue cheese, sweet tomatoes and a bite of red onion. It's simple and comforting and something we've had on the Delmonico's menu, in some version or another, for as long as I can remember."
I'm a firm believer of not messing with a good thing—but all month long, I'll be tweaking classic salads with a few modern twists. When I sat down to think about the wedge, I didn't want to give the dish a drastic face-lift—just a few quick, painless injections to freshen it up. Here's the breakdown:
The lettuce: Iceberg. Done. Cut that pale green volleyball of lettuce into four wedges (leaving the core intact) and step aside. Moving on.
The dressing: I love a thick blue cheese dressing, but there's some room for variation here. If you're a purist, like me, you'd better be reaching for Maytag, but don't break it into tiny crumbles. You want big, delectable knobs. The real room for interpretation is in the remaining ingredients. Most steakhouse recipes from the 50s and 60s call for equal parts sour cream and mayonnaise. But, reducing the mayo and introducing buttermilk and a squeeze of lemon juice adds not only acidity, but thins it out a bit, making it easy for the dressing to get in between the iceberg's dense, rigid layers. Season the dressing aggressively. It can handle a good amount of salt and pepper.
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The bacon: I've seen wedge salads topped with sad, dry-as-a-rock bacon bits. I've seen them strewn with bacon slices, which can be tough to eat (and I didn't order a BLT without the bread). In the end, you just want your bacon to be crisp and crumbled, so it can get inside and around the lettuce.
The extras: This is where people end up destroying the salad by letting their freak flags fly a little too freely. Just relax and acknowledge the salad for what it is—great comfort food. We didn't gussy up our recipe with too many frills, just a handful of summery Sun Gold tomatoes and a heavy dose of chopped chives and tarragon. No need for croutons here: A hefty sprinkling of fried shallots adds more crunch.
And that, my friends, is a wedge of glory.
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