Appetizers are a mainstay of holiday parties, lots of cheese, phyllo, puff pastry, tarts, crackers and meats. If we’re lucky there are bowls of olives & pickles, and some raw veg to balance things out. I think that adding a cold crisp salad is a perfect foil for the rest of the menu.
Recently I was invited to a party that was to embrace the 50’s & 60’s. Most of my time in those periods, was toddling around in nappies, skinning my knees while learning to ride a bike, watching my mom go crazy for the Beatles, and my sister becoming a hippy.
My only true memory of foods of that time was when mom & dad would have Bridge night. A group of 8 or 12 neighbours would play once a month, rotating houses. I well remember getting up early the next day and scavenging through the living room, eating leftover AD mints, black olives, gherkins, and the ultimate, broiled spam & cheese on open dinner rolls. Mom would grate spam, and cheddar (not even Velveeta), mix with mayonnaise (never Miracle Whip) and then spread this on top of dinner rolls. Broiled just until the cheese melted and the spam sputtered, they were absolutely decadent.
Okay, so my tastes have changed somewhat from when I was eight.
The Wedge Salad was an ever-present menu item for the 50’s & 60’s. It lost favour when Romaine started edging it out in the 70’s, and open leaf lettuces with vinaigrette started to take over. The lowly iceberg lettuce has always remained on the produce shelves because it has some amazing qualities. First off, no other lettuce can replace its crispness. It holds up well to tossing, and works well with other lettuces to give your salad some lift. It also seems that the iceberg lettuce of today, is more open and green than the ones of even 20 years ago, which is great.
The lettuce is what makes this appetizer fresh & crispy, and a wonderful addition to an appetizer buffet. The recipe is followed with notes on plating a basic Wedge Salad, if you want to go traditional.
24 individual servings
2 or 3 slices of thick sliced bacon
2 T minced chives
1 c crumbled blue cheese (½ c for dressing & ½ c for topping)
1 T minced shallot
¾ c sour cream
½ c milk
2 t lemon juice
1 T white wine-vinegar
Salt & pepper to taste
1 head of Iceberg lettuce
Cut the bacon in half lengthwise, and then crosscut it into ¼ inch slices.
Fry in a skillet over medium heat until browned and crispy. About 5 – 7 minutes.
Remove with a slotted lifter from skillet and drain on a doubled paper towel lined plate, and reserve.
In a processor, put ½ c crumbled blue cheese, the minced shallot, sour cream, milk, white wine-vinegar, and lemon juice. Process until well mixed. Season to taste with salt & pepper, pulse a couple of times. Reserve. You can also do this step with a whisk and a bowl, but I like the emulsifying that happens when the processor is used.
Set out your serving dishes. These can all be the same, or use an assortment of like sized dishes & glasses. In the picture I have some liqueur glasses, brûlée dishes, sauce dishes, as well as some of my appetizer cups. Be creative. Clean 2-3” clamshells would work well, or clean glass votive holders. I like to serve the salad with little bamboo forks, but if you have something else that would work well, use it!
Cut the lettuce in half, cut out the core, and any thick white leaf bases. Now, using your judgment, based on the dishes you’re using to serve the salad, cut 1” wide pieces. Depending on the dish, these might be 2” long, maybe rectangular, or triangular. The most important factor is that the pieces shouldn’t be too big to eat easily, nor should they be squished into the cup or dish so when eaten, your guest pulls out the whole mess and gets covered in dressing.
Distribute the lettuce amongst the dishes (there may be enough to make more than 24).
Pour a teaspoonful or two of dressing onto the lettuce in each dish. Top with some crumbled blue cheese, a few pieces of bacon, and a sprinkling of chives. At this point, they can be covered and chilled for up to an hour before serving.
To plate a traditional Wedge Salad:
Halve and core the lettuce. Cut each half into 3 wedges, making enough for 6 servings.
Place a wedge on each of six salad plates.
Drizzle each wedge with 2 tablespoons of dressing.
Top with crumbled blue cheese (you may need more than you would use for the appetizers), bacon, and chives.