I meant to include an announcement in the title, and then promptly forgot the intention — sorry! You see, there's a giveaway going on. Details are at the bottom of the post, after the recipe.
This is totally happening.
Here we have that unapologetic specimen of salad, the iceberg wedge. Actually, it's burly enough to warrant emphasis — The Iceberg Wedge. Yes, that's better.
I was out with a friend I don't see as often as I'd like, the sort of friend who orders you a French 75 in a bar that's all dark wood and leather and brass, and whose taste you'd trust implicitly. Over the wandering path of our catching up, one of us mentioned iceberg lettuce; imagine my delighted suprise when he boldly declared his love for the stuff, a declaration I immediately cosigned. Besides maybe a backyard burger, I think we agreed that a wedge salad, dressed with bacon and blue cheese and more than a dash of hot sauce, is iceberg's highest praise.
I've got real hopes some of you agree.
Iceberg salads are often maligned, the badum-bum-cha punch line to jokes about terrible cooking. And there's surely fair reason for that, as sure as there's redeeming qualities to The Iceberg Wedge. It isn't refined, it isn't one of those springy salads that gets us ready for summer days. It is watery refreshing, it's old school gung-ho — it is crunch, and fat, and cool, and nose-clearing heat, all set right up to high on the sensory scale. It isn't wimpy, wan or delicate. It's a corker, a real wise guy. It's memorable.
As you might recall, I held off on bringing up this recipe earlier. I wanted to get the dressing measurements locked in before sending you on your way. There's a trouble in that though; as silly as it sounds, blue cheese dressing is an art more than a science. There are variables to consider and balance, ones that can't be be pinned down to hard and fast rules: the pungency and the moisture of the cheese, the astringency of the particular lemon that's juiced, the consistency of the sour cream. I've abandoned hope of giving exacting quantities, offering instead guidelines to steer you in the right direction.
If you don't mind, I have a note on the hot sauce to choose. I have a weakness for cayenne-based sauces with blue cheese, specifically Franks Red Hot Sauce, the hot sauce for Buffalo chicken wings — a dish that should always be served with celery and carrot sticks and blue cheese dressing. And no, I don't dip my wings in the dressing. That's just me. But the vinegary sting, that lip prickling heat from the hot sauce after a bite of chicken is so, so great with celery dipped in dressing for a chaser. Here, the iceberg lettuce stands in for the celery and the bacon for the deep fried wings, but the same logic applies.
And while we're on the topic of hot sauce, — my apologies but I have some heart-held feelings when it comes to the iceberg, scratch that, The Iceberg Wedge — I don't mix the hot sauce into the dressing. I'm not entirely fond of the pinkish shade it dyes everything, but there's also a taste preference; keeping it instead in drips and drabs across the salad perforates the dressing's richness. Again, that's just me.
Despite my peculiarities of opinion, there's nothing difficult about an iceberg salad. Not much happens in the kitchen, but everything happens on the plate.
Another point scored for The Iceberg Wedge.
THE ICEBERG WEDGE
You can use the dressing right away but I think it's even nicer after a day in the fridge, which gives the flavours the chance to fully develop. If you choose to wait, you may need to stir in a few drops of water to thin the dressing before use; it thickens quite a lot as it sits.
But oh, that thickened dressing is especially great on top of one of those backyard burgers. Leave it as is, straight from the fridge, and go to town.
For the blue cheese dressing (makes about 2 cups)
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
- 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- Juice from half a lemon
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
- 1 medium sized head of iceberg lettuce
- 1 recipe blue cheese dressing
- 5 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped then fried until crisp
- Minced chives, freshly-cracked black pepper, and hot sauce to serve
Make the dressing. In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream and 3 tablespoons of the buttermilk. Gently fold in the blue cheese and chives along with 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Season with freshly-ground black pepper. Take a taste. If more freshness is needed, stir in a bit more lemon juice. If it needs thinning, add some buttermilk. Keep tasting and tweaking until the dressing suits your taste. Set aside, or if making ahead, cover and refrigerate until use.
To make the salad, discard any saddish-looking outside leaves from the lettuce. Cutting through the core, halve the head lengthways. Then cut each half into half the same way, so you end up with quarters, each with bit of core attached. Place the wedges on individual plates or on a platter, family style. Pour some of the dressing over the wedges, then top with the bacon. Garnish with minced chives, a cracking of black pepper, and as much hot sauce as you dare, passing the remaining dressing alongside.
Best eaten immediately, serving 4.
- If you can time things such that the bacon is still warm, with some of its fat still sizzling when it's scattered on the salad, that's the way to go.
- Green garlic can be used instead of, or in addition to, the chives.
I truly appreciate the response to my work in UPPERCASE and all the recent kindness regarding my nominations over at Saveur. And so in thanks, I got together with Janine to offer two copies of UPPERCASE magazine's latest issue for a giveaway! The contest is open to anyone; simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you - through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)
Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, April 20, 2012.
Hooray and best of luck!