Cousin Matthew’s Salad Trifecta: Three Simple Classics, Plus a Bonus

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Today, friends, I will talk about three canonical American salads, the Chef’s, the Cobb, and the Waldorf and, if you persevere, “gift” you with a really quick fourth one. All very simple and adaptable, even if you just stick to the ingredients and add and subtract depending on what you like. A brief intro in italics precedes each but you can skip. Each salad serves two gluttonous men with a little left over for the dog, except for the Waldorf.

Chef’s Salad

There doesn’t seem much “chef-like” about this simple salad, but according to wiki a hotel chef, debate rages about whom, was the first to come up with this. It reminds me of the time I took a young charge to MoMA in New York and I showed him one of Robert Rauschenberg’s “White Paintings.” “This is stupid. I could do this.” “Yes, but the genius was, he did it first.”

1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce.

4 eggs

Bowl of ice water

About 4 or 5 inches worth of cucumber

8 grape tomatoes

1/4 pound deli Swiss cheese, thinly sliced

1/4 pound deli roast beef, thinly sliced

1/4 pound deli turkey, thinly sliced, but not too thin, it might fall apart

1/4 pound deli ham, thinly sliced

Note: Use more meat/cheese if you want, and the proportions don’t have to be 1:1:1:1

Ranch or blue cheese dressing on the side


Wash the lettuce, especially if you got it at a farmer’s market. There can be a lot of grit. Tear the leafy green parts into pieces about two inches wide.

In a small saucepan put in your eggs, cover with water (salted or not) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and let them do their thing. This should take about 6—8 minutes but you want them to be really hard-boiled and yet not rubbery. You probably have your own method for this.

While the eggs are boiling fill a bowl with ice water. 

On a cutting board slice the (washed, goes without saying) cucumber into 1/2-inch disks. Slice your grape tomatoes in half. The eggs should be done so put them in the ice bath. Get the deli meats and cheese out of the fridge.

Here is where this becomes Chef Matthew’s Salad:

Divide the lettuce into two big bowls. Plates maybe, but bowls are bettter. Add 1/2 the cucumbers and 1/2 the tomatoes to each. Halve the eggs and divide evenly. Mix.

You can do all kinds of things with the meat. You can cube it and mix it in, for example. That’s easy but not fun. This is what I do:

Take all your deli and peel it apart so you have 8 piles, 2 each of the four types. The deli should be about 4 or 5 inches wide. Give a little of each to the dog. Roll your piles individually. Slice your rolls in half, so you now have 16 2—3-inch-wide deli roll-ups.

Divide and arrange these on top in a fun way, or just lay them side by side, alternating. I’ve done my initials, the Forager-in-Chief’s initials, a couple of obscene pictograms, numbers that are meaningful to us. F U is almost too simple but never ceases to bring a smile to the F-in-G’s face. 

*Chef’s note: You put the ranch or blue cheese dressing on the side because if you add it on top of your salads all at once it will sink to the bottom. Since the deli is on top, by the end of the meal you’re left with a soupy mess of coagulated lettuce. No fun. 


Cobb Salad

The origin of the Cobb salad is well-known. It is attributed to Robert Cobb, who owned LA’s fabled Brown Derby restaurant. I discovered what is supposedly an original recipe from an old LA Times review of a restaurant (not the Brown Derby) that had been serving it since the 1950s. I’ve transcribed it and tell you what I do. Here’s the source. Full disclosure.

1 avocado [size not specified, but I’d go easy on this]

1 medium tomato [that’s about right, the size of a man’s fist]

2/3 cup bacon [this is easily half a pound of bacon, more like 3/4 when it cooks down]

2/3 cup crumbled Roquefort cheese [that’s not much, maybe 4 oz., I use more] 

1 cup hard boiled egg [4, maybe 5 eggs]

1 cup white meat turkey [I use supermarket rotisserie chicken, but I do use the white meat, and more than a cup, maybe 1 1/2 cups]

Italian dressing on the side.*

A mix of Romaine and iceberg lettuce, equal to about “1 head” [I haven’t served Romaine lettuce in quite a while because, at least pre-pandemic, there were Romaine-related e coli outbreaks almost weekly it seems. Iceberg lettuce is really only good for one thing, the classic steakhouse “wedge salad,” which I’ll throw in as a bonus at the end. Use Boston or Bibb.]


Boil your eggs, 6—8 minutes, plop into the ice bath, I’m like a broken record, and let them hang out for a while. In the meantime, fry/grill the bacon until it’s really crisp. You can do this in a frying pan but we have a stovetop grill that I like better. You might use garden-variety supermarket bacon but if you look at this recipe it’s pretty bland, so I use smoky, slightly spiced bacon. Six or seven strips. Place on a paper towel to get rid of the grease. Try to keep it warm though (optional.) I stash it in our microwave, which I never use.  

Get out a big bowl. Really big, like bigger than you think you’ll need. Time to start dicing! Everything is diced. This is why the original recipe is in cups, not by weight. 

I start with the lettuce. Then I add the tomato and the avocado. Those two work really well together. Then I add the rotisserie chicken, remembering to pull a little more off the bird as a tip for the dog for his faithful security guard duty. Then I crumble/dice and add the bacon, reserving a tablespoon to add to the dog’s kibble, because he is a very good boy. If you’ve ever had a bacon/chicken sandwich you know how good that is. Then, on top, I sprinkle the egg and the Roquefort. This doesn’t really matter because at the end you pull out your comically huge salad serving set and, from the bottom, combine and fold in the ingredients. Your serving set should consist of a big fork and a spoon the size of your head. Use them to move the salad to plates.

*Chef’s note: I’ve tried to serve this with something other than Italian dressing, as that LA Times article alludes to, but stick with the tried and true.


Waldorf Salad

I loathe Waldorf Salad. And yet I make it quite often, and it is the easiest salad of all. You’ve probably heard of this. It comes to us from a man named Oscar Tschirky, a Swiss immigrant who was the maitre d’hotel at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria and came up with it in 1893. 

What happened was a good many years ago I stumbled across a postwar “Bachelor’s Guide to Entertaining.” It was mostly non-food related but there were a few simple recipes for when it was the housekeeper’s night off. I bought it of course, I couldn’t resist. I had a few pals over for dinner. This was before the era of the “Mad Men” theme-party craze so people didn’t dress up or anything, that would have been weird. I made dinner out of this guide and Waldorf Salad was the appetizer. It was a hit! Of course I could have let it drop but shortly thereafter I was up visiting my huge extended family and told them about it. They said it sounded kind of interesting. To this day I’m asked to make it for them, but really, opening a can of soup is easier; at least you need a can opener or a penknife.

This recipe makes about 4 side salads. You can’t choke down enough of this to make a meal out of it. This is also not very summery; it’s probably best in the Fall, if at all.

1 head of Boston or Bibb lettuce

2 large, sweet apples, like Golden Delicious. Do NOT use something tart, like Granny Smith.

A handful of sweet red grapes, seedless, halved. This is probably around a cup.

An equivalent amount of celery, chopped small, but not smoothie consistency.

As many raisins as you want. I’d make it less than the grapes, but…

Walnuts, shelled, from a can. About as many raisins as you are using, but in both cases less than the grapes.

A nice, big jar of mayo (a: see note right below this). Don’t go crazy. Miracle Whip is perfectly acceptable, but maybe Hellman’s. Using Duke’s would violate the spirit of the recipe, and homemade aioli would land you on an ICE watch list.

a) Chef’s note: Martha Stewart’s version is more palatable. It’s pretty much the same as mine and hundreds of others, but she uses yogurt mixed with lemon juice. Why don’t I? Because my family members PREFER MAYONNAISE. You can also add cubed chicken and take away the grapes, but at that point you’re making a chicken salad, not a Waldorf.


Core and chop the apples into bite-size pieces. No need to peel.

In a big bowl, add the apples, the grapes, the celery, the raisins, and the walnuts. This is when I give it a good stir and ask a higher power for forgiveness. Then, using a tablespoon, dig into that jar of mayo and add a good heaping, four or five tbs. at least. Mix that together and refrigerate but only one hour maximum. You do not want to serve this at room temperature, believe me, and after an hour in the fridge the mayo can do weird things to its companions. 

Wash, tear, and arrange the lettuce on four salad plates. 

Apportion the contents from your chilled bowl to your four lettuce-lined bowls.

*Chef’s note: As if this weren’t intuitive, this does not make for good leftovers. Do not let the dog anywhere near this. Whatever you don’t eat, throw away.


Bonus Round: Simple Wedge Salad

You almost never see this served at home but it’s still ubiquitous at steakhouses. I make it sometimes when I (used to) have people over and I was serving steak. This is another salad that can’t be a meal on its own.

At least 1/4 lb. bacon, plus a little more for the dog

1 head iceberg lettuce, washed

Big ole bottle of the best and chunkiest blue cheese dressing you can find*

At least 1/4 lb. blue or Roquefort cheese


Fry/grill your bacon until it’s nice and crispy. Move it to a plate lined liberally with paper towels. Let it cool and dice/crumble. You’re making large Bac-O-Bits, like in the Cobb salad above.

Take a big bread knife or butcher’s knife and chop the end off the iceberg lettuce. Then, quarter it, making the four wedges. Place them on their sides on salad plates. Pour a good dose of the blue cheese dressing over each wedge, but don’t drown it. I usually spoon it over the top and let it drip down and soak in. 

Sprinkle the bacon, then the blue or Roquefort cheese, over each wedge. 

Play this party game: “How do you spell myocardial infarction and what does it mean? Phones down, no googling!”

 *Chef’s note: You can make your own dressing for this, there are a few recipes online. I’m sure homemade is even better but given the cost of blue cheese you’re probably better off just using something that came out of a huge industrial plant somewhere.



  1. My mother was born in 1920, so she was about right in time for these recipes. Except…she was a dreadful cook. Keitel still shudders when he tells the story of going to dinner at her home, where she “made fancy” for him, and the salad was shredded carrots, raisins, and a bit of mayo mixed with milk as a dressing. My grandmother made an excellent Waldorf salad, however… Thank you, @, for the fun stories and recipes!

  2. oooo salads i love salads
    but i cant make any of these…lol.. i hate walnuts and avoid fruit like the plague (not that i dislike fruit..just ate enough of it for a lifetime when my parents forced me to coz its good for me)
    and the missus wont eat meat nor will she touch anything that has salad dressing on it…as apparently dressing = vinaigrette and vinaigrette is the devil….its one of the wierder hang ups i have to cook around…lol

  3. I love a good Cobb Salad, minus the avocado. And like you, loathe Waldorf Salad, I don’t like mayo. 
    Then there’s the Pittsburgh Salad. Use your favorite greens, in Pittsburgh it’s usually a mix of iceberg and romaine because, well, it’s Pittsburgh. Add shredded cheese, onion, cucumber, and sliced hard boiled egg. Top with French fries, thinly sliced steak, and dressing. Because in Pittsburgh they have to ruin a perfectly healthy food with French fries. But it is tasty.

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