Is there anything better than a well-built salad? And by salad, I mean a towering wedge of crunchy iceberg lettuce topped with a tangy yet creamy homemade blue cheese dressing and juicy chunks of ripe, diced tomato and crunchy bacon bits.
A staple on steakhouse and some gastropub menus, the salad is thought to date back at least to the early 1900s, a few years after the first cultivar for iceberg lettuce was developed in California.
Some say they called it "iceberg" because that's what it looked like when it was transported on crushed ice; others attribute its name to its ice-white color of its inner leaves and crunchy texture.
One early version of what cookbook author Marion Harris Neil dubbed "Lettuce Salad with Roquefort Dressing" appeared in "Salads, Sandwiches and Chafing Dish Recipes" in 1916 and by the mid-1920s, with bottled salad dressing being mass-produced by companies such as Kraft, the crispy, crunchy salad was growing in popularity.
The salty, incredibly satisfying bits of bacon on top didn't make an appearance until the 1950s, and some recipes also call for adding blue cheese crumbles with the dressing. This "fully loaded" recipe from Serious Eats also includes diced red onion that's been soaked in vinegar to add a bright and tangy finishing note.
Admittedly, a wedge iceberg salad is not particularly healthful because its leaves are less nutritionally dense than other lettuces (it's 96 percent water) and bacon and blue cheese dressing -- here made with mayonnaise, sour cream and buttermilk -- are both high in fat. But it's definitely worth the occasional splurge.
Don't skip quick-pickling the red onion in a vinegar bath -- it makes it less pungent -- and be sure to salt the tomato before piling it on top of the salad, to draw out any excess water. Dice both, along with the bacon, into small bits so you get a taste of all three in each cool and creamy bite. Bread crumbs cooked in rendered bacon fat until brown and crispy add to the crunchy finish.
I used a yellow tomato, because that's what I had on hand, but red is more traditional. Any extra dressing keeps in the fridge for up to a week.
Loaded wedge salad
2 small tomatoes (about 8 ounces total), diced
1 small red onion, minced
White wine vinegar, for soaking onion
4 ounces bacon, cut into ½-inch pieces
2 ounces (about ½ cup) fresh bread crumbs
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce, outer leaves discarded, quartered through core so that each quarter holds together
Minced chives, for garnish
2 ounces mild blue cheese
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
½ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon fresh juice from 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt (if needed)
Prepare dressing: In a medium bowl, mash blue cheese with a whisk. Whisk in mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk and lemon juice until a smooth, slightly lumpy dressing forms. Season with pepper and salt, if desired. Set aside while you prepare the salad.
Set a fine-mesh strainer over a bowl and add diced tomatoes. Sprinkle liberally with salt and toss to combine. Place onion in a small bowl and pour enough vinegar on top to cover. Let tomatoes and onion stand while you prep the other ingredients.
In a small skillet, cook bacon over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until crisped, about five minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel -- lined plate to drain. You should have about 2 tablespoons rendered fat in the skillet.
Add bread crumbs and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, three to four minutes. Transfer to a paper towel -- lined plate to drain and season liberally with salt and pepper.
Arrange iceberg wedges on plates and spoon blue cheese dressing over each (you will have more dressing than you need). Drain quick-pickled onions and sprinkle all over salads, along with drained tomatoes (discard any extracted liquid), crumbled bacon, toasted bread crumbs, and chives. Serve.