If you’re someone who doesn’t like to be hampered down by recipes with lots of tedious rules, then a chef salad is for you. Found on restaurant menus everywhere, there’s a lot of debate on where this salad came from. Perhaps this is because chefs have always taken a lot of creative freedom when it comes to making this dish!
It’s a recipe you can easily make at home using ingredients from your refrigerator and pantry.
What Is a Chef Salad?
Most origin stories for this iconic salad take place at various hotels in New York during the early 20th century. Many say this salad started as an off-menu item where the chef would add cuts of deli meat, cheese and hard-boiled egg to the hotel’s house salad. Over time, as the popularity of the salad grew, it was permanently added to the hotel’s restaurant menu. Soon after, chef salads began popping up on menus all over New York.
Chef Louis Diat, of the Ritz-Carlton in New York City, is often credited with putting the chef salad on the map after including on the hotel’s menu in 1975. While he was certainly not the first to make the salad, the Ritz-Carlton’s fame helped propel the chef salad to the mainstream.
What’s in a Chef Salad?
At its core, a chef salad is a dish that includes hard-boiled eggs, assorted deli meats and cheese served over a bed of lettuce or mixed greens with a variety of seasonal, chopped fresh vegetables. Deli ham and turkey are the most popular meat choices on chef salads, but some also include roast beef or chicken.
Types of Toppings
Traditionally, you’ll find vegetables for a chef salad chopped in large, bite-sized pieces while the meats and cheeses are typically sliced into long strips (julienne) or cut into cubes. You’ll rarely see hard-boiled eggs on a chef salad crumbled or sliced. Most often, the eggs are simply cut in half or into quarters and arranged on top with the other ingredients.
Editor’s Tip: By cutting each of the various ingredients a little differently, you give chef salads a load of great texture in every bite. Find more salad tips from a restaurant pro.
Types of Dressing
Early chef salad recipes often cited French or Thousand Island as the dressing of choice. Modern recipes allow for more variation in dressings, though. Honey mustard, ranch and blue cheese are commonly recommended, but feel free to choose a salad dressing that suits your personal taste.
Essential Tools for Making a Chef Salad
While it’s simple to make eggs for your chef salad with a pot of boiling water, if you’re making hard-boiled eggs often, a rapid egg cooker ($25) is a great gadget to have handy. It cooks up to a dozen eggs with the push of a button.
Your trusty chef’s knife is the most important tool in any kitchen. This 8-inch Wusthof ($120) makes all that salad prep work a breeze.
Lastly, a beautiful salad bowl makes serving the family so much more satisfying. We dig this acacia wooden salad bowl set ($43) for family dinner.
How to Make a Chef Salad
Yield: 6 servings
- 6 cups spring mix salad greens
- 1/2 cup shredded cabbage
- 6 hard-boiled large eggs, cut in half or quartered
- 3 slices deli turkey, cut into thin strips
- 3 slices deli ham, cut into thin strips
- 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
- 4 green onions, sliced
- 4 fresh baby carrots, sliced
- 4 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 cup Thousand Island salad dressing or dressing of your choice
Optional: You can also top your salad with deli roast beef, cucumbers, red onion, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, asparagus, celery, fresh green beans and/or croutons.
Step 1: Combine ingredients, season and toss
Add the first nine ingredients to a large salad bowl, then season with garlic powder and pepper and gently toss together.
Step 2: Add dressing
Top the salad with dressing and then toss to coat or serve with the dressing on the side. Serve immediately.
How to Make a Healthy Chef Salad
Instead of using deli turkey and deli ham, use grilled turkey or chicken breast and crumbled bacon. You may also want to make a healthy salad dressing at home instead of using Thousand Island.
How Long Will the Salad Last?
The salad will wilt quickly once it’s coating with the dressing, so only dress as much salad as you plan to eat. Then, store any leftover prepared ingredients separately in the refrigerator for up to three days.