Hail Caesar! I am speaking, of course, of the salad, not the Roman. Of all the salads one can order in finer restaurants, the Caesar ranks among the top of the more luxurious, decadent choices. The crisp leaves of choice Romaine lettuce, or even fresh spinach is contrasted by the slightly tart, and sinfully creamy dressing. There are many variations on the Caesar salad recipe, but there are several things they all have in common. One is that the leafy vegetable has to be very crisp and cold. Next, even though some health codes frown on it, the dressing should be made with a raw egg to be authentic, although it is common to ‘coddle’ the egg (a sort of pasteurization process). And lastly, the olive oil needs to be Italian. Spanish olive oil just doesn’t have the character to do this salad justice.
Although the mighty Caesar of Rome would’ve probably loved this salad, it has nothing to do with Julius, Augustus, Octavius, or any of the family line. It is purely a product of the 20th Century. Like many other outstanding creations, it started out as an act of desperation. In 1923, Prohibition was in full swing. Legally, the country was drier than David Letterman’s humor. In southern border states, in order to circumvent the ban on alcoholic beverages, many restaurant owners either moved their business across the border into Mexico, or had restaurants in both Mexico, and the U.S. Caesar Cardini, an Italian Immigrant to the U.S., and restaurant owner, had a restaurant in San Diego, Ca., and in Tijuana, Mexico. Both were very popular. On the 4th of July, 1924, at his Tijuana restaurant, a huge rush of patrons exhausted his supplies. Rather than close up for the day, he did what any good chef would do. He improvised with what he had, which was all salad ingredients, and added some ‘flair’, by preparing the salad at the table. The salad was a huge success, and quickly spread through the culinary world, undergoing countless variations. The Caesar salad recipe is now considered a basic skill for all chefs, and professional restaurant staff.
A word about raw eggs. The risk of salmonella poisoning is because of cracked, or improperly washed eggs. The bacteria are easily killed by proper washing, and selecting your eggs carefully. You should never use any egg, for anything, that has been cracked before you have washed it. And you should absolutely never, never use any egg that you have not personally washed, with a chlorine solution of at least 2% bleach and water. As long as you do this, there is little danger of infection from raw eggs. But, if you really have a problem with raw eggs, you can ‘coddle’ them, which sterilizes them with heat, without actually cooking them. To coddle an egg, you simply immerse it in hot (but not boiling) water for 45 seconds, or pour boiling water over the egg, and let it set for 10 minutes. This meets the Health Code requirements for all 50 states (as far as I know), and completely eliminates all risk of salmonella, when done correctly.
It would be impossible to list all the variations of the Caesar Salad recipe here, but here are some recipes to get you started.
Original Caesar Salad
For the dressing:
1/3 cup virgin olive oil
1 large egg
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp capers
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 pinch salt
For the salad:
2 medium heads of romaine lettuce — outer leaves removed
2 cups croûtons
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese — grated
Wash the egg well
Grate the Parmesan cheese, and set aside
In a small mixing bowl, add the Worcestershire Sauce, lemon juice, capers, Dijon mustard, garlic, and salt and pepper. Crack the egg into the mixing bowl and whisk until the mixture is nice and creamy. Carefully trickle the olive oil into the mixture in a small, slow stream, while whisking, until the mixture becomes thick. If you add the oil too fast, the dressing will not emulsify, and end up as a thin, oily mess. Set aside.
Tear the lettuce (do not cut) into bite-size pieces, and add them to a large salad mixing bowl. Add half of the dressing, and toss well. Add the remaining dressing, croûtons, Parmesan cheese, and toss well.
To be really authentic, prepare the salad at the table, and serve on chilled plates.
Chicken Caeser Salad
Note that this recipe does not use any eggs, so you don’t have to worry about raw, or coddling eggs.
1 lb. grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast fillets
2 large bunches of fresh spinach
2 cups croûtons
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup Italian Extra-Virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3 anchovy fillets, diced as fine as possible
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Grill the chicken breasts, and set aside to cool. When they are cool, cut into bite-size pieces, or 1/2″ strips. (Note-for a Crispy Chicken Caesar Salad, substitute fried Chicken Tender Strips for the grilled chicken)
Add garlic, anchovies, and lemon juice, salt and pepper, and olive oil to a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth. Set aside.
In a large salad mixing bowl, tear spinach into large pieces, and add to the bowl. Add 1/2 the Parmesan cheese, half of the dressing, and toss well. Add chicken, croûtons, the rest of the dressing, the rest of the Parmesan cheese, and toss well.
Serve on chilled plates, or in chilled bowls.
Easy Caesar Salad Dressing
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
3 anchovy fillets, dice very fine (or 2 tsp Anchovy Paste)
1 tsp capers
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 garlic clove, crushed
salt and pepper to taste (but go easy…the anchovies are pretty salty)
Savvy cooks will have noticed that the procedure for making the Original Caesar dressing is the same as for making mayonnaise. Making mayonnaise is very tricky, and takes a lot of practice. So, if your not trying to impress anyone with your technique, you can simply omit the egg and olive oil, and just use mayonnaise, where the tricky stuff has already been done for you. Add all the ingredients to the mayonnaise, in a mixing bowl, whisk together until well mixed, then refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to develop. That’s all there is to it. You can bottle it (or jar it) and keep it in the ‘fridge for up to 10 days.