Where Thunderbird Salad gets it’s name is still a mystery to me, but when you have chilled iceberg lettuce, bleu cheese, raisins, lemon and bacon I am in!
We were invited over to a friend’s house and his wife made this incredible first course salad. For the life of me I can’t remember the reason or why it’s called a Thunderbird Salad, but it is so simple and packs an amazing flavor. It sure is one of my all time favorites. Chilled and crunchy, salty, cheesy and sweet all in bite after bite.
I switched it up here a little, too. Usually I make this with regular, dark raisins and used sweet golden instead. And where I usually use crumbled bacon, here I decided to slow render and crisp up some fantastic pancetta I recently purchased from my favorite Italian deli and market, Mona Lisa. It’s located on India Street here in the Little Italy community of San Diego.
It’s about the only time I would ever eat Iceberg lettuce as it’s usually too watery, but when I’ve made this salad with other greens, it is just not the same.
So let’s start by chilling the salad bowl.
Pancetta, pronounced pan-chet-a, is basically an Italian version of American bacon with a few exceptions. While American bacon is cured and smoked, pancetta is cured but unsmoked. It’s made of pork belly too, and can be found salted and seasoned with black pepper usually, and sometimes with other spices. It is then dried for several months. Both need to be cooked to be eaten.
Pancetta can be found in two ways, rolled and called “arrotolata” and is typical of northern Italy and a flat version called “stesa” which is usually found in central and southern Italy. Either is amazing in flavor and great for cooking. It adds that extra salty goodness to the meal and I keep the rendered fat instead of using olive oil for sautéing, too.
I cook the chopped pancetta pieces low and slow to render the fat and get the edges all caramelized and crunchy. I simply add to a cold cast iron skillet or your pan of choice and turn the heat to medium-high and once they start to sizzle, turn it to low and slowly cook until browned and delectable.
Tear cold lettuce into bite-size pieces and put into salad bowl.
In a small bowl, mix oil and lemon juice. Add raisins, bleu cheese and bacon or pancetta. Pour this mixture over lettuce and toss to incorporate thoroughly.
Place on plates and season liberally with crushed black pepper. Enjoy!
This was the salad I served with the Individual Beef Wellingtons with Caramelized Onions and Bleu Cheese Rosemary Compound Butter. So, so good. It was a bleu cheese kind of day!
- 1 head of Iceberg lettuce torn into bite-size pieces
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- 4 ounces bleu cheese crumbles
- 1 medium lemon juiced
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 8 slices cooked crumbled bacon or pancetta
- freshly ground black pepper
- Chill salad bowl for 10 minutes prior to assembly.
- In the meantime, slowly render and cook bacon or pancetta until crispy. Reserve bacon fat for other use, pat dry and crumble.
- Tear cold lettuce into bite-size pieces and put into salad bowl.
- In a small bowl, mix oil and lemon juice. Add raisins, bleu cheese and bacon or pancetta. Pour this mixture over lettuce and toss to incorporate thoroughly.
- Place on plates and season liberally with crushed black pepper.