Cooking with San Francisco Cooking School: Wedge Salad

wedge salad

I’m not going to lie, I love a classic wedge salad. I’m fairly sure the iceberg lettuce is simply a vehicle for creamy blue cheese dressing and bacon, but done right, this salad delivers exactly what a salad should: a contrast in taste and texture that is just enough to whet the appetite before a meal.

But let’s get real, no one is really rushing to the farmers market for a fresh head of iceberg lettuce. Don’t let that deter you from making what I call a “new-classic” wedge salad.

Instead of the conventional, tasteless iceberg, go for Little Gems. These gorgeous greens come as small, compact heads, and one sliced down the middle is a perfect serving size. They are tender but still provide texture. My advice is to slice them in half lengthwise, cut off the very bottom of the core, brush them with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, and give them about 2 minutes a side on a hot grill. You’re looking for a little char and those classic grill marks but don’t overdo it: keeping this lettuce crunchy is key so don’t leave it on the heat too long. When you remove your Gems from the grill, pile them on a big serving platter.

Dressing is key here too—homemade, of course. You can go a few directions: a classic 3:1 oil:vinegar vinaigrette with some crumbled blue cheese, or a creamier dressing by combining yogurt or sour cream with a bit of mayo, a little buttermilk, tons of chopped fresh herbs, a touch of minced garlic, and cheese if you like. I add everything to taste, there is no real recipe here. I favor tangy so I use more yogurt/sour cream than I do mayo, and the buttermilk is there just to thin it out as needed. My herbs of choice are usually chives, parsley and dill (softer-stemmed herbs work best here as they aren’t so overpowering). I go easy on the garlic too—maybe ½ teaspoon at best. It adds a nice bite without screaming “garlic.” You can make this dressing in a jar and keep it for a few days in your fridge, serving it cold when you put your salad together. Taste it when it’s done—sometimes a little splash of red wine vinegar perks it up even more.

Lest you think I’d forget the bacon, I cut a few thick strips into lardons, pieces about ½ inch wide cut across each strip. Put them in a cold pan over medium-low heat and let them cook slowly. This will render out all the fat and keep the bits nicely shaped. They will crisp up—it takes 15–20 minutes—then you can remove them with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel.

Assemble this salad so it looks abundant and inviting. Serve it on that large serving platter so people can’t help but dive in deep. Drizzle enough dressing on your grilled Gems to lightly coat each piece, but serve the rest of the dressing on the side. This ensures the lettuce holds some texture and lets the dressing fans add more if they want (this stuff is hard to resist, so make lots). I like to then sprinkle the salad with tons of very thin radish slices. More killer texture, plus their bracing bite balances out the richness of the dressing perfectly. If and when you have in-season cherry tomatoes, they too bring a great flavor element to your salad. Avocado is optional—I honestly think it’s gilding the lily, but I have family members who would revolt without it (I don’t judge!). Finally, finish with those crispy bits of bacon and a dusting of salt and freshly cracked pepper (OK, more cheese if you want, too).

This salad will carry you into spring and through the summer. It evokes a memory of that old wedge salad, improved in such a way that you’ll never look back.