CLASSIC CAESAR SALAD AND THE STORY BEHIND IT

Posted: December 7, 2018 in Food, Recipes
Tags: , , ,

For my family, a Caesar salad is the only salad to serve on special occasions. It’s another great addition to our Thanksgiving and Christmas table. But it all starts with a little history…

If someone told me that the classic Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, I’d say they were crazy. But that’s one bizarre truth in the creation of one of the world’s most iconic salads.

Famous restaurateur, Caesar Cardini, ran a restaurant in San Diego back in the early 1900’s. But when Prohibition hit the states, he opened another location in Mexico…Tijuana, to be exact, luring many of the day’s Hollywood stars across the border. They could gamble in Mexico, and they could feast on food and alcohol at Cardini’s.

The story goes that one July 4th, they were running out of food, and thinking quickly, Cardini created a salad at the spur of the moment, using only the ingredients he could find in the kitchen. Having the chef assemble the salad tableside meant it came with a grand performance, and word quickly spread of the incredible “Caesar salad.” (Cardini named it after himself.) Cardini’s is still at its original Tijuana location, and they serve thousands of Caesar salads, with a flamboyant tableside show, to tourists.

Though Cardini didn’t believe anchovies should be in his salad (they say Worcestershire was used instead), anchovies were eventually added when his brother, Alex, tweaked the recipe years later. (The Worcestershire was removed.)

It needs to be said that raw egg yolks are used in Caesar salad, and if you’re not comfortable using them because of salmonella concerns, you shouldn’t. Sometimes coddled eggs (slightly boiled) are used. Some stores, though not many, sell pasteurized eggs in the shell. I haven’t had a chance to use them–or even find them. Many recipes contain a variety of egg substitutes. But for me, it ain’t a Caesar without raw egg, so I’m willing to take my chances.

The Caesar salad that I compare all others to is the one my wife first made for me when we were dating. I don’t want to say that it convinced me to marry her, but it certainly factored into the equation!

 

The ingredients.

 

In presenting this Caesar salad recipe, my wife had promised the friend who first made this recipe for her that she would never reveal all of its secrets. But the great thing about recipes is that one slight change is all it takes to make someone else’s recipe your own…and that’s exactly what I did. No promises broken!

The first really important ingredient to get is a wooden bowl. No other bowl will do. We have an old wooden bowl at home with almost mystical properties that is used for nothing but our Caesar salad, and I have to say that it makes all the difference in the world.

 

The mystical wooden bowl. Years of Caesar salads have given it a special seasoning.

 

Once you have the bowl, what matters most is the freshest, best quality ingredients you can find: farm-fresh eggs, not supermarket ones…Parmigiano Reggiano, not generic Parmesan. The best quality extra virgin olive oil. Fresh lemon juice. Freshly cracked black pepper. High-quality anchovies. And organic Romaine lettuce, assuming there’s no recall like we’ve had recently. (Organic bibb or leaf lettuces make great substitutes.)

After that, it’s all about the love.

 

The process begins…

 

4 raw egg yolks
8 oz. good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
4 anchovies
the juice of 1 lemon
4 oz. grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 heads organic Romaine lettuce, washed, stems removed, torn by hand

 

Place the egg yolks in the wooden bowl and whisk them until well mixed.

While whisking the yolks, pour the olive oil in the bowl VERY SLOWLY, whisking all the time, never stopping. Keep pouring the olive oil slowly until you’ve whisked all of it into the eggs and you get a beautiful emulsion.

Keep whisking and add the Dijon mustard, then the black pepper.

In a separate small bowl, mash the anchovies with a fork–even better, use a mortar and pestle, if you have one. Don’t leave any chunks. Slowly add the mashed anchovies to the wooden bowl, mixing them in with the whisk to combine the ingredients. You want them to dissolve completely in the dressing.

Once the dressing has reached its desired consistency, add the lemon juice and whisk some more.

Whisking slowly, sprinkle in the Parmigiano Reggiano.

When it’s all mixed together, dip a finger in the dressing and give it a taste. Does it need more lemon juice to cut the oil? Slice a second lemon and add a little. Taste again. Is the tartness of the cheese dancing on your tongue? If not, grate more and add a little more. Enough black pepper? There should be enough salt from the anchovies and cheese.

If you think you’ve “got it,” add the Romaine leaves to the salad bowl and toss gently to coat the lettuce.

When serving, top each salad serving with a little more cheese. Extra anchovies are optional.

 

 

If you’re saying “where’s the garlic?” …you’re right. Every good Caesar needs some. This recipe would use about 1 tablespoon of fresh, finely chopped garlic, added after the mustard. If I’m cooking alone, I always add the garlic. But we have people in our household that are allergic to garlic, so when family is here, we leave it out. The flavors of the dressing are so deliciously intense, you’ll be surprised how good it is without it!

 

 

 

 

 

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