Rep Note:
Chef’s Salad
11 September 2018

It took Kathleen a long time to tell me that she doesn’t particularly care for chef’s salad. I started serving it about five years ago, and I suppose Kathleen gamely decided to give it a try. But enough was eventually enough.

I stopped making chef’s salads altogether. If I’d thought about it, I might have ventured that it was too much work to make a salad just for one. But this is silly. There might be many good reasons why it would be too much work to chop up the ingredients for a chef’s salad, but the number of people expected to enjoy the result is not one of them.

I have liked chef’s salad ever since being wowed by one at the Edwardian Room, the grand restaurant in the old Plaza. It was at a brunch or a lunch; my mother and sister were there, and presumably some other lady or ladies (but not my father), and, also presumably, we were all, or most of us, going to have chef’s salad. The salad was wheeled out on a cart, a glorious dome festooned with bits of egg white and parsley. The waiter spooned it onto dishes. The salad tasted like the dream of an everyday sandwich, but without the bread. The secret was the dressing, which bound all the flavors together in its own inscrutable zest. (I’ve never outgrown its appeal.) 

It was some sort of Russian dressing, I’m sure. Technically, a chef’s salad is simply whatever the chef feels like tossing in a bowl. When I was a boy, though, the ingredients, at least in the Northeast, were set: tiny cubes of ham, turkey, Swiss cheese and American cheese, a chopped hard-boiled egg, and iceberg lettuce. At least that is how I remember chef’s salads, until the creative Seventies reinvented everything. Now that I think of it, cubes of tongue were part of the deal, too. But I wouldn’t know where to buy tongue today. 

This evening, for some reason, I wanted to make a chef’s salad more than I worried about “going to all that trouble.” I also wanted to use up the ham and cheese and turkey and iceberg lettuce that I’d bought partly to make chef’s salad possible. Not to mention the bottle of Russian dressing that I made over a month ago. (It was still fine.) 

The one thing that I’d learned from making chef’s salad before is that skimping is the key to success. However much of any ingredient you think you need, use less. I cut a small circle off the edge of the iceberg, and chopped it up. Then I added what seemed minuscule amounts of the cubed items. (The tiny block of turkey was about the size of my pinkie.) I tossed in the chopped egg and added a light dose of dressing. For once, the salad did not look too big to eat, and it wasn’t.

As you might suspect, there was too much egg. Next time, I’ll see what it’s like to do without the egg altogether. There’s hard-boiled egg in the dressing, after all.

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