"America's silliest salad. It's built upon the back of the least flavorful and least nutrient-dense lettuce available and blanketed in some of the fattiest ingredients around. This makes it simultaneously the least nutritious and most unhealthy salad on most menus it graces." Chicago Tribune
Feeling somewhat uninspired today, I had a quick look at some of the websites I have listed as potential subjects for a post. Next on my list, having discarded three as either uninteresting, irrelevant or dead, I came across one called No Crumbs Left, and the first recipe I noticed was this one - a Wedge salad. At which point I thought I would change tack slightly and deal with lettuce wedges. Don't you feel they are everywhere recently? I'll do the website itself another day.
No Crumbs Left is an American website, and this is an American dish, as The Chicago Tribune's quote attests. The classic version consists of wedges of iceberg lettuce, topped with bacon, tomato, egg and onion - well I think the egg might be optional - with a creamy blue cheese dressing - which I have to say is not much in evidence in the picture above.
"The wedge salad is a mouth party, and all ingredients are invited to each and every bite." Daniel Gritzer/ Serious Eats
So I began my 'research' and the first website I alighted upon was Serious Eats, which is always guaranteed to be informative. And it was. At least with respect to how to make one.
"The last thing a wedge salad needs are big chunks of tomato, onion, and bacon precariously balanced on it like hills perched atop mountains; sameness, or even similarity, of scale is a wedge salad's death. No, what we want is maximum contrast. That means all the toppings need to be small, like confetti, so that you're guaranteed to have little bits of every garnish stuck to every forkful of the lettuce. " Daniel Gritzer/Serious Eats
And their version, as you can see, is somewhat more restrained in terms of toppings - as per their tutorial - although there is a fair amount of dressing. Apparently American nutritionists deplore this particular salad, because of the calories in the dressing and the toppings, in which the lettuce is often smothered, and the lack of nutrition in the lettuce - traditionally iceberg. One of them said there were more calories in a wedge salad than in a Big Mac. Only in America!
Historically it seems it first appeared as a recipe in 1916 in Marion Harris Neil's cookbook, Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes. It was hugely popular in the 1920s, went out of fashion and came back in in the 1950's with steakhouses. One writer maintained that in virtually every steakhouse in America a wedge salad would be served with your steak. And still is. Now the ancient Egyptians might have been the first to grow lettuce for consumption, but I doubt they dressed it with blue cheese, or cut it into wedges.
And those wedge salads are not a simple side salad, they are almost a meal in themselves and they need you to use a knife and fork. There is etiquette involved:
"1. Yes, you do need both a knife and a fork.
2. Begin by securing the wedge center with your fork.
3. Slice a bite-sized piece from the tip nearest you.
4. Swish the bite in dressing, dab in toppings, and enjoy." Hitchcock Farms
Gourmet wise - if that's a thing - I think in the 2000s the wedge salad, although it still exists with a mind boggling array of toppings and dressings, has morphed into charred versions. Charred everything is all the rage these days and some bright spark - nobody seems to know who - tried it with lettuce and started a trend: "However ridiculous it may seem, a cooked lettuce will almost always triumph" says Anna Jones.
Yes it's done with the iceberg lettuce but it also seems to have expanded its popularity with the rise of the little gem lettuce and the cos - romaine as they call it in the UK. It's so popular that hardly a Coles or Woolworths magazine goes by without at least one example. So here are a few examples from the relatively simple to the rather more complicated: Charred iceberg salad with buttermilk and chive dressing from Coles - they don't look very charred to me; Charred little gems with tahini caesar dressing from Anna Jones; two from Ottolenghi - well it's a bit obvious that he would have a go at this isn't it? Iceberg wedges with aubergine cream and super crunchy topping and Grilled romaine lettuce with charred corn and salsa roja and finally the one which is perhaps furthest from the American version - Charred lettuce and pea salad with charred lemon dressing from Gourmet Traveller.
I'd have to say that virtually all of the pictures I saw made the individual versions look tempting. There was even this rather nifty version for your next Christmas dinner. But I'm not really that tempted - mostly I think because of the knife and fork thing. These days I find myself mostly eating with just a fork. Roast beef seems to be a thing of the past.
I'm still pondering on what to serve my family for dinner on Sunday. I think curry has been abandoned as it's just too complicated and it's too hot, although my alternatives also require heat. Anyway I'm moving towards Italy - and Jamie mostly - which might seem a bit unadventurous but isn't. Which was another reason I thought I would look at wedge salads - well salads in general.
Because it's also going to be quite hot and the Jamie dish I am currently thinking of Chicken skewers - stuffed thighs cooked on a potato and tomato base - seems to be crying out for a salad accompaniment of some kind. A simple green salad would fit the bill, but not charred. Jamie has a lettuce wedge salad too - with a buttermilk dressing. Maybe a carrot salad? It's all still a bit in limbo though. I'm definitely going to make this one day, but possibly not on Sunday.
The last thing I'd say about a wedge salad is that it's not a cheap thing is it? Well not recently anyway when iceberg hit an all-time high in price. OK now I guess, but those little gem lettuces are not that cheap. And nobody talks about washing them first. You would have to do that wouldn't you? And then it would take ages to dry them.
Hmm. Very fashionable but not for me I think.