The nation’s unofficial ban on romaine lettuce continues apace, as Reuters reports four more people have died from e. coli as a result of eating tainted lettuce. Sad news for those who love a Caesar salad—and reassuring news for the rest of us, who have recognized the superiority of the wedge salad all along.
When executed properly, a wedge salad is a thing of great beauty—bleu cheese, bacon, the satisfying pop of a cherry tomato, a blizzard of scallions or chives, all atop a hulking, watery wedge of iceberg, the most maligned lettuce of all. It’s a simple salad—no muss, no fuss—and can be assembled in a pinch. It makes no qualms about being fancy, though fancy versions certainly do exist. While those options are tempting, I’d advise against them. A perfect wedge salad tastes like suburban grocery store staples: Hidden Valley dressing, preternaturally red tomatoes, regular-ass bacon. Its lack of fanciness is what makes it so beautiful—a salad for the people, if the people are you and your loved ones looking for something fun to eat when it’s sickeningly steamy outside.
A wedge salad smacks of a mid-century dinner party—a starter course served on your best Fiestaware, with a tureen of bleu cheese on the side. It’s retro but not obnoxious, unpretentious and practical. Eat it on a picnic blanket out of a Tupperware while you swat ants off your legs. Carefully fork lettuce shards from a “deconstructed” wedge into your mouth at a fancy restaurant. For me—and maybe for you—it is a perfect salad and it deserves its day in the sun.
Detractors of the wedge salad take issue first with the bleu cheese, which is funky and divisive but also with the lettuce itself—merely a vehicle for the dressing, the bacon, and the accoutrements, essentially defeating the point of eating a salad. As a Libra, I can see their side! But as a woman who will likely die face-down in a wedge salad with a large unsweetened iced tea and a small chafing dish of queso next to her plate, I must disagree.
Iceberg is not America’s favorite lettuce, if such a thing exists. It is a lettuce whose popularity rose because of its practicality. According to Smithsonian Magazine’s delightful history of the best summer lettuce, iceberg was bred specifically to survive a long train ride across the country. It is watery, crunchy, tasteless, and generally bland. That, my friends, is what makes it the perfect counterpoint to the rest of the ingredients. Break up the funk of the cheese with the crunch of the ‘berg. Is the bacon too salty? That’s what the lettuce is for, bitch! Of all the places one could find iceberg lettuce—shredded and limp, draped in a hardshell taco, or as a sad garnish for a fried scallop, maybe—the only place it really belongs is in this salad.
A wedge salad is essentially summer’s comfort food, for when you want something that feels decadent but still kind of healthy—perfect for when it’s too hot to eat hot food. The bacon must be cooked, of course, but put it in the oven, set a timer, and sit in front of your air conditioner until you feel normal again. Thwack your knife into the lettuce, pour some bleu cheese, some tomatoes, some bacon on the thing. Some pepper if you must. Enjoy the wedge salad. Eat the kale Caesar tomorrow.