Cobb Salad Redux for a Manhattan Project

My best pal who is a serious home bartender cheerfully said sure when I suggested he create a Manhattan cocktail tasting and I would bring the food. Having experienced some old-fashioned and avant-garde variations of this cocktail at his house I knew there would rye whiskey and intense Italian botanicals in the form of vermouths and Amaraos. There are few things more fun than a research project to find a pleasing food and beverage pairing.

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One of my newer cocktail books was purchased at my local Queen Anne Book Company solely because the authors’ intent was to make food pairings with cocktails. The New Cocktail Hour by siblings André and Tenaya Darlington who’ve written three cocktail books together and have a blog With the Darlingtons, Muddling Cocktails and Culture. The broad overview of pairing offered tips such as:

“Bold cocktails offset other bold flavors. Try a Toronto and a hunk of Stilton.” I know about the Toronto and recognized this as a solid idea. The Toronto was popular at my house for a while because of the Fernet-Branca in it. At the time Fernet was the late night drink choice of bartenders all over Seattle and my husband. It is not my choice as a beverage any time but agree it is an excellent ingredient in a cocktail. I wouldn’t know if it’s still popular as I'm now asleep late night. 

Drilling down to specific alcohols they suggested, “Big brown liquor-based drinks with flavors of caramel, raisins and toffee go with roasted meats…”

Further down in specific cocktails, “Try a Manhattan with all things pork or anything caramelized—roasted root vegetables, steak, even crème brûlée.”

So food pairings for our Manhattan Project looked like a simple pan seared steak with Roquefort sauce. I had such a recipe from my pal and it was tasty.

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Right before the event a heat wave struck and it was too hot to eat anything that wasn’t cold. So the hunt began for a salad that had steak in it. My trusted blogger and author David Lebovitz had a fine cache of dinner salad recipes in his blog including one for a Cobb Salad referencing my dear old friend George Geary and his book L.A.’s Legendary Restaurants, which I had blogged about when the book was new and show you again at the title link. The owner of the Brown Derby restaurant, Robert Cobb, created the salad and named it after himself. In the original version, which was always on the menu, neat rows of blue cheese, chicken breasts, bacon, avocados and hard-boiled eggs appeared on top of a mix of four lettuces with French dressing. Substitute cold slices of rare steak for chicken and this salad is perfect for a hot summer night with rye cocktails.

Escarole and baby lettuce from my local farmers market. The Brown Derby recipe called for iceberg, watercress, chicory and romaine.

Escarole and baby lettuce from my local farmers market. The Brown Derby recipe called for iceberg, watercress, chicory and romaine.

To further the caramelized flavor profile and enhance the charred appearance I made a plain rub of salt, sugar and black pepper for the steak. I also decided slowly browned shallots would add crunch and more depth than chopped chives, which I saved for the crab dip starter. The leftover neutral oil used to brown the shallots for 20 minutes adds punch to sautéed vegetables, crostini or salad dressing. I love having this oil in the refrigerator.

I sent my shopper out for Stilton and he came back with the Point Reyes Original Blue because the Stilton didn’t look good. Ordinary blue cheese will never do after you’ve tasted Point Reyes, which is a phenomenally bold and rich cheese. When we tasted the cheese we decided to hold the avocado, as there is such a thing as too rich. I substituted an Armenian cucumber I bought at the farmers market as a novelty. It’s crunchy and doesn’t have a high water content. 

Whoops! I forgot the hard boiled eggs.

Whoops! I forgot the hard boiled eggs.

Cobb Salad is up for endless variations depending on your mood, pantry and the weather. Use the lettuce or greens you have on hand. We decided to call this meaty version the Lee J. Cobb after the actor and it was an excellent choice for our Manhattan Project. Do use David’s French dressing recipe, adapted from the Brown Derby. It’s wonderful and will be the house dressing here for weeks to come.

A coincidence discovered after the event was with the New Cocktail Hour recipe for the Toronto, which I never looked at because I know it by heart, the Darlingtons specify Point Reyes Original Blue. I recommend this book.

A Black Manhattan with rye and Averna Amarao makes a liquid dessert.

A Black Manhattan with rye and Averna Amarao makes a liquid dessert.

Manhattan: 2 ounces rye, 1 ounce Carpano Antica Italian sweet vermouth, 2 dashes Angostura bitters, Luxardo cherry garnish.

Perfect Manhattan: 2 ounces rye, ½ ounce Carpano Antica Italian sweet vermouth, ½ ounce Dolin dry vermouth 1 dash Angostura bitters, cherry or lemon twist garnish.

Black Manhattan: 2 ounces rye, 1 ounce Averna Amarao, 1 dash Angostura bitters, cherry garnish.