Oct 14, 2015

Making a CLASSIC Salad... Even Better

So what is a "classic"? The definition is debated, but a classic usually expresses some artistic quality - an expression of life, truth, and beauty - and has stood the test of time. There are also food classics like Taro, or Poke here in Hawaii. Sometimes you have to go back to the classics to remind yourself just how great they were.

One of my favorite food classics is the iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing. It first appeared as a ubiquitous menu entry of the 1950's. Know-one knows where this simple salad originated, and no hotel, chef, or restaurant claims to have invented it, but it is definitely getting popular again.

Old postcard of the General Oglethorpe Hotel
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I remember back in 1949 when I was 5 years old, my father owned a hotel 6 miles outside of Savannah, Georgia, on Wilmington Island called the General Oglethorpe Hotel. His German chef, Chef Wolfgang Schmidt, would serve iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing in my father's hotel restaurant. At that time this salad was very popular. I loved that salad even then. The hotel has changed hands many times, and was finally converted into condos. I guess all good things have to come to an end, except for my memories of my youth, and what I ate then.

So what is a iceberg wedge salad? By wedge I mean a quarter of a head of cold iceberg lettuce sitting on a chilled plate with dollops of thick blue cheese dressing cascading down its sides, and sprinkled with cherry tomatoes. I serve it with a rare steak and crispy French fries, paired with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon on the side, and finished with a glass of vintage port.

Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese
available at Moloka'i Wines & Spirits

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Some people are turned off with blue cheese because of the blue-green mold in it. Most blue cheese today is either injected with the mold or the mold is mixed right in with the curds. Blue cheese is attributed to a shepherd who was storing cheese in caves in southern France. Legend has it that there was bread left at the entrance of the cave and it molded. As the mold on the bread continued to grow, a breeze carried the spores into the cave infecting the cheese being stored. The birth of the blue cheese is a very natural story as the mold in combination with oxygen and exposure to the cheese does impact the look and taste. I like the taste of blue mold, many think it's piquant and makes the cheese “spicy” tasting. My experience is the overall taste of a blue cheese is a combination of maturation (age of the cheese) and the mold used.

The flavors of blue cheese vary widely in strength and saltiness. I have found that with blue cheese, you get what you pay for. My favorite is Point Reyes Original Blue made by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company. This cheese company is located north of San Francisco, way out in the country near the small community of Point Reyes. I used to love driving out there to the Creamery to purchase their award winning cheese products, but their "Original Blue" is my favorite. Point Reyes Original Blue is made into 6 pound wheels. The cheese is rindless, white in color, with dark blue-green veins throughout with rich, deep flavor. The mold penicillium roqueforti (the same one from Roquefort cheese) is used to create the viens. The cheese is semi-soft, with a creamy texture. Fortunately for the "foodies" living on Moloka'i, you can buy it at Moloka'i Wines & Spirits, in small 6 ounce wedges.
Fresh Dill from Kumu Farms

I remember buying Marie's blue cheese dressing out of a bottle years ago until I found out how easy it was to make myself. The recipe below is so much better than bottled. My secret is dill weed, which I have found goes really well with blue cheese

The classic way to serve this wonderful dressing is over a quarter wedge of cold iceberg lettuce. Some people like to sprinkle pieces of crispy bacon on top, but I prefer to keep it simple by putting only slices of cherry tomatoes on top. It can also be served as a dip with buffalo wings, sauce for steaks or hamburgers, with crudités (raw vegetables), or over grilled vegetables. If you are going to do the dip thing, try it with a tray of freshly cut broccoli, cauliflower, and red bell pepper from Kumu Farms here on Moloka'i. I hope you try my blue cheese salad dressing recipe, I think you will like this NEW CLASSIC recipe!

The NEW Classic Iceberg Wedge Salad 
with Chunky Blue Cheese/Dill Dressing
The NEW Classic Iceberg Wedge Salad
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3 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 tablespoons of dried dill
1 cup (4 ounces) good blue cheese, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh chives, or scallions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
Iceberg lettuce, quartered
Cherry Tomatoes cut in half, for garnish

In a small mixing bowl, combine milk, sour cream, mayonnaise, garlic, and dill. Add half the blue cheese and mix together, using the backside of a spoon to mash the blue cheese into the mixture. Some chunks of blue cheese should remain. Add the chives, or scallions, and season with salt and pepper, stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour before serving. Cut the cold iceberg lettuce into quarters. Place a wedge of the lettuce in the center of the cold plate and generously spoon the chunky blue cheese dressing over the wedge of lettuce, sprinkled with the other half of the crumbled blue cheese and the cherry tomato halves. Serve with a cold knife and fork. Makes about 1 1/2 cups of dressing, enough for 4 salads.

Note: If you like the dressing a little thinner, simply add a little more milk and stir.

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