With (or Without) Wedge Salad
Blue Cheese may be the tastiest salad dressing around. It has a tangy, robust flavor that makes you want to eat it by the spoonful. And it’s versatile! You can use it on salad, of course, but also as a dip (think Buffalo Chicken Wings) or even as a sauce.
And it’s de rigueur on Wedge Salad. That big ole hunk of iceberg lettuce crowned with creamy dressing was a standby of the “fine dining” scene in the 1950s and 60s. It declined in popularity for a while, as Americans discovered that lettuce didn’t have to be iceberg.
But lately Wedge Salad has been making a comeback. I’m seeing it on restaurant menus more often, particularly at steak houses (where it might never have left). Example? Take a look at the dinner menu for Morton’s Steakhouse, where it appears as “Center Cut Iceberg” salad.
Many people continue to view iceberg lettuce as the ultimate in untrendy. But almost everyone agrees that Blue Cheese Dressing is terrific, no matter what you put it on.
Homemade Blue Cheese Dressing takes just a few minutes to make — and it tastes way better than the commercial kind you buy at the grocery store. So let’s make some. And as a bonus, I’ll throw in a recipe for Wedge Salad! (I know, I know — you can barely contain your excitement.)
Recipe: Blue Cheese Dressing
The most important element in Blue Cheese Dressing is, as you might imagine, the blue cheese. I think it tastes best with Italian Gorgonzola or French Roquefort. But British Stilton is also good. Even domestic generic “blue cheese” is pretty tasty. I’m partial to the soft creaminess of Gorgonzola, so that’s what I generally use.
The dressing is usually made with a base of mayonnaise, sour cream, and/or yogurt. You can play with the quantities and proportions of these ingredients to come up with a flavor that pleases you. I prefer about 2 parts mayo to 1 part sour cream, so that’s what we’re using in today’s recipe.
This recipe makes about 2½ cups, and preparation time is 5 to 10 minutes. It keeps well covered in the refrigerator for about a week. But you’ll have consumed it long before then.
- 1 cup mayonnaise (full fat tastes best; but lower fat versions work too)
- ½ cup sour cream (ditto: full fat tastes best)
- 4 ounces crumbled blue cheese (you can add a bit more if you like)
- 1 tablespoon wine vinegar (or to taste; may substitute lemon juice)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste; at least ¼ teaspoon of salt, twice that of pepper)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons milk (to thin the mixture to your desired consistency; can add more if you like; see Notes if using the dressing as a dip)
- 1 tablespoon minced parsley (optional, but delicious; may substitute chopped chives)
- Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, and crumbled blue cheese in a mixing bowl. Beat ingredients together with a wooden spoon until the mixture achieves a smooth-ish consistency, but with some lumps of blue cheese (a wire whisk doesn’t work well for this — the mix tends to lump up in the whisk).
- Beat in wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper to taste.
- Thin to desired consistency with milk, and beat in minced parsley.
- Chill in a covered container for at least an hour before using.
At its most basic, Wedge Salad is nothing more than iceberg lettuce washed, cut into wedges (4 - 8 per head of lettuce is a good number), and served with a good-sized dollop of salad dressing on top (Blue Cheese Dressing is traditional, although some are partial to Thousand Island Dressing). Wedge Salad often is garnished with tomatoes and/or bacon. A garnish of fresh herbs — I like parsley and/or chives — is also common.
Some people turn up their noses at iceberg because it isn’t as flavorful as other lettuce varieties, nor is it quite as nutritious. In fact, I’m one of those people. I hadn’t bought it in years until I decided to make this recipe. But it has a crisp, crunchy texture that is fun to munch (and great in tacos). And it’s still the most popular lettuce sold in the US, so someone must be buying it and enjoying it.
One head of lettuce serves 4 - 10 (depending on how big you cut the wedges). Preparation time is 5 minutes (add another 10 to prep garnishes), although after the lettuce is washed you should allow it to crisp in the refrigerator or at least an hour. You need about half a recipe of Blue Cheese Dressing for a head of iceberg (although if your arteries can take it, using the entire recipe is great on this salad).
- 1 head iceberg lettuce, washed, trimmed, and cut into wedges
- tomato slices or wedges (or cherry tomatoes) as garnish (optional; maybe a couple of ounces per serving)
- bacon pieces/bits as garnish (optional; 1 or 2 cooked bacon slices per serving)
- ½ recipe Blue Cheese Dressing (or the entire recipe, if you want)
- minced parsley or chives as garnish (optional)
- Wash lettuce, cut off root end, remove any bruises or discolored outer leaves, and cut head into as many wedges as you wish. Wrap in a towel and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.
- If using tomatoes as garnish (I highly recommend this), wash and cut into wedges or slices.
- If using bacon as a garnish (both good and traditional, but IMO a bit over the top given the richness of the dressing), put 1 or 2 pieces of bacon per person on a paper towel-covered microwave-safe plate, cover the bacon with a paper towel, and microwave until done (anywhere from 1 - 5 minutes depending on your microwave and how many pieces you’re cooking). When crisp and done, cut into bits.
- Alternate method for bacon prep using stovetop: Cut bacon into pieces of about 1 inch, put in cold frying pan, and put on stovetop on medium heat. Cook until bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel.
- Place each wedge of lettuce on a serving plate. Add a big dollop of dressing (at least 2 tablespoons). Garnish with optional tomatoes, bacon bits, and parsley or chives. Serve and enjoy.
- Buttermilk is an excellent substitute for regular milk when making the dressing. Its tangy flavor combines well with blue cheese.
- Gorgonzola and Roquefort are expensive. A less expensive blue cheese won’t deliver quite the same snap, but it will still provide tons of flavor.
- If you are using the dressing as a dip, you may want to omit the milk, since you might prefer a thicker consistency. Some people would also omit the wine vinegar or lemon juice, but I like the ping it gives.
- Many recipes for Blue Cheese Dressing add chopped onions, scallions, or onion powder. A couple of tablespoons of onions or scallions is an excellent addition. I haven’t used onion powder in this, but I would think perhaps a teaspoon or so would be tasty.
- While homemade Blue Cheese Dressing is wonderful, most commercial versions are not. In fact, they’re often way too sweet, and practically inedible. However, some of the dressings sold cold in the produce departments of supermarkets are actually tasty. I’ve used and enjoyed the Marie’s and Marzetti brands. But I much prefer my own.
- Iceberg lettuce seems to last forever in the refrigerator. Well, not forever, but it will still be good after a week or two — by which time leaf lettuce or even romaine will be well on its way to becoming compost. So if you’re cooking for only 1 or 2, you can serve up Wedge Salad several times over a 2 week period.
- A head of iceberg also makes a good bowling ball if you’re looking for some spur-of-the-moment sporting activity around the house (just saying).
- Wedge Salad is often served with crumbles of blue cheese as a garnish. That’s gilding the lily, in my opinion — the dressing itself delivers plenty of blue cheese flavor. But if you like it, go for it.
- Thinly sliced red onion makes another nice garnish for your Wedge Salad.
Reconsidering Iceberg. Or Not
“What’s this?!” asked Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, looking askance as I served up Wedge Salad. “It can’t be what I think it is.”
I confirmed her worst fears. “I’m doing a recipe on Blue Cheese Dressing for the blog,” I said. “But photos of the dressing alone are kinda meh. So I thought it’d be more interesting if I put it in context, on a salad.”
“And you chose Wedge Salad?”
“Well, um, I’ve been hearing lots about it lately,” I said, shifting in my chair. “Kill two birds with one stone.”
“That’s one way to put it,” she said. “Interesting that you’d be serving this so close to the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking. I mean, icebergs and all.”
“Maybe we shouldn’t go there.”
Then she tasted, tentatively. Long pause. Another dainty taste. Then a mouthful. “The Blue Cheese Dressing is absolutely delicious!” she said. “The iceberg? Not so much. Great crunch, though. And the dressing is so tasty that you don’t really notice how flavor-challenged the iceberg is.”
And that ultimately is the problem with iceberg. It does have flavor — just not very much. But I can see how its crispy crunch appeals to many people. And it looks rather interesting. Pair it with bolder flavors — like Blue Cheese Dressing — and it’s a pleasant enough eating experience. Wedge Salad works, I must admit. Still, it’s not a dish I’ll serve very often. I have better uses for Blue Cheese Dressing.
Like another classic recipe that I’ll be doing sometime next week: Chef’s Salad.
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