On the Blue Plate Special
In cookbooks of the 50s and 60s, it would be easy to find a recipe for Wedge Salad. There wasn’t much to it: a block of Iceberg lettuce with blue cheese dressing drizzled on top. The crunchy hunk often showed on the Blue Plate Special at neighborhood restaurants.
By the 70’s, we were a bit more sophisticated, (you know: leisure suits, bell bottoms, and sideburns), so we went from gloopy dressings to healthier vinaigrettes.
The Polyester of Lettuce
For years, the crisp head was considered inferior to its greener relatives: romaine, arugula and endive. Food snobs felt Iceberg didn’t measure up nutritionally, even though it has a modest amount of fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C and iron.
Iceberg was known as “the polyester of lettuce,” because like the fabric, it was cheap, boring, and easy to care for.
A Tip of the Iceberg Remained
Head lettuce never completely went away. Nor did the Wedge Salad. Eventually, it got gussied up with the addition of bacon pieces, tomato, pickled onion, sour cream, bread crumbs, even avocado.
Today the salad is a regular item at Mar-a-Lago, because it’s a Donald Trump favorite. (But don’t let an image of the former POTUS noshing on Iceberg ruin it for you.)
Actually, it’s chefs and leading food bloggers, who are bringing new life to the retro salad. It may not be health food, but it’s darn tasty and so easy to make.
As to the topping, you can make your own blue cheese dressing, as does Martha Stewart and the Pioneer Woman. Or easy up the recipe with a bottled dressing. But whatever you do, keep the topping pieces small, so you get some of each in every forkful.
The Wedge Salad below takes a little more time, but is my favorite. It’s slightly adapted from Serious Eats.
- 2 small tomatoes, diced
- Kosher salt
- 1 small red onion, minced
- White wine vinegar, for soaking onion
- 4 oz. sliced bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 oz. blue cheese or gorgonzola
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 1 Tbs. fresh juice from 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, quartered through core
- Minced chives, for garnish
Place diced tomatoes in a mesh strainer, sprinkle liberally with salt, and toss to combine. In a small bowl, add minced onion and pour enough vinegar over to cover. Let tomatoes and onions stand.
In a small skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat, until crisped, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.
In a medium bowl, mash cheese with a fork or whisk. (Blue cheese gives a little more tang than gorgonzola). Whisk in mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon juice until a slightly lumpy dressing forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange iceberg wedges (or discs) on plates and spoon dressing on each. Drain quick-pickled onions and sprinkle all over salads, along with drained tomato pieces, bacon, and chives.