The chef’s salad is a familiar yet fading star in the salad world. In delicatessens, diners, and airport snack bars everywhere, we find its faithful components: lifeless leaves of iceberg lettuce, suspiciously blue-hued slices of hard-boiled egg, wedges of pallid tomato, and rubbery chunks of cheese, ham, and turkey. To top it all off (or perhaps sitting alongside): gloppy, high-calorie dressing. But this still-beloved salad may have had a noble beginning. Though nobody has ever stepped forward to claim the title of the chef in “chef’s salad,” the dish has been attributed by some food historians to Louis Diat, chef of The Ritz-Carlton in New York City in the early 1940s. He paired watercress with halved hard-boiled eggs and julienne strips of smoked tongue, ham, and chicken. (The concept of the chef’s salad dates still earlier; one seventeenth-century English recipe for a “grand sallet” calls for lettuce, roast meat, and a slew of vegetables and fruits.) No matter how the salad has evolved, its underlying virtue remains unchanged. This is a no-cook meal that satisfies our cravings for greens and protein. And, in these dog days of summer-when cooking is sometimes the last thing we’d like to do-a main-course salad is especially appealing. In our updated take on the classic recipe, we used a selection of lettuces (early chef’s salads were not always made with iceberg alone), and, in a twist on the norm, small but flavorful amounts of sugar-cured ham and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Feel free to improvise with ingredients depending on what looks good at your farmers market. Summer savory or dill can flavor the dressing in place of the mixed herbs, and many kinds of ham and cheese will work well.
- 6 carrots
- 8 radishes
- a 1-pound piece ham
- 1 head romaine
- 1 small head radicchio
- 1 small head frisée (French curly endive)
- a 3-ounce container sunflower sprouts
- a 15- to 19-ounce can chick-peas
- 1 red onion
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 garlic clove
- 2/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/4 cup packed fresh flat-leafed parsley leaves
- 3 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, and marjoram
- 3 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- a piece Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1/3 pound)
- 3/4 pound cherry tomatoes
- Shred carrots and thinly slice radishes. Cut ham into thin strips. Tear lettuces into bite-size pieces and in a bowl toss with sprouts. In a colander rinse and drain chick-peas. Salad ingredients may be prepared up to this point 4 hours ahead and chilled, covered.
- Halve onion lengthwise and thinly slice crosswise. In a medium bowl dissolve salt in ice water and stir in onion. Let onion stand at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Chop garlic. In a blender or food processor finely chop herbs and garlic with vinegar and salt and, with motor running, add oil in a stream until blended. Dressing may be made 1 hour ahead and chilled, covered.
- With a vegetable peeler shave thin slices from Parmigiano-Reggiano. Drain onion and pat dry. Halve tomatoes. In a large bowl combine all salad ingredients and toss with dressing and salt and pepper to taste.