A Chopped Salad shouldn’t be trendy. It should be classic. A Cobb Salad is chopped salad perfection. A harmonious blend of roughage and bacon– when chopped together form a more perfect union.
However, not all salads are created equal. Not all salads are able to stand up to the roughshod treatment of a mad man with a mezzaluna (thank God Freddy Krueger didn’t have such a tool).
Can you imagine the mess you’d have on your hands if you used one of those curved two-handled frenzied chopping devices on a delicate Niçoise salad? The pleasure in that sort of salad comes from composing each bite independently. Chopped Salads may be enjoying a resurgence, but that doesn’t mean we should pulverize every salad insight.
That said, I have to admit I do like a good chopped salad. I’m old-fashioned that way. But the ingredients need to be chosen wisely. The secret to making a good chopped salad is to cut the ingredients into chunks that are all about the same size (not too big and not too small). So forget the mezzaluna, it’s far too indiscriminate a tool for this job. I think a good chopped salad is hand-chopped with a chef’s knife. Each ingredient sized to bring out its best characteristics when enjoyed in conjunction with all the other ingredients.
Done properly this leads to another important element– texture. It should be varied. But not so varied that you lose the very simplicity that makes a chopped salad so alluring. As the trend towards the chopped salad increases more places are popping up that specialize in them. Ordering a chopped salad in these places is (according to the New York Times) “like buying a car. You start with a base price that includes a limited number of toppings, usually four or five. After that, each addition costs extra.”
At first, I was intrigued by all the chopped salad mayhem happening at restaurants everywhere. But like every food trend, somewhere along the line, the train jumps the track. Certain ingredients just aren’t suited to a chopped salad. Wet ingredients come to mind– too many wet or soft elements and this salad turns into baby food. So choose bold textures and flavors. Unexpected ingredients can work too. Just not too bold or too unexpected. Popcorn doesn’t need to be chopped into a salad just to get my attention, does it?
Let’s all take a deep breath and remember what we love about this salad. As I said a Cobb Salad is a chopped salad perfected. So whenever I make a chopped salad I don’t stray too far from the original. There is room to update the ingredients, however. I replaced the bacon in this version with fried Spanish chorizo (an idea I stole from my friend Andy Windak). Seasonally sweet persimmons make a nice counterpoint to the spice in the chorizo. You get the idea…
It’s fun to have a theme sometimes too. The theme for my salad is winter, spring, summer, and fall. I was recently at the Hollywood farmers market and I noticed that bitter winter greens, springtime California Hass avocados, warm weather tomatoes, and autumnal persimmons were available– all at the same time. It’s rare to see locally grown produce spanning all the seasons. Even in Southern California. So the theme for my chopped salad was born. GREG