Serves 4

You can always judge a restaurant by the quality of its Caesar Salad. The Romaine lettuce needs to be fresh, crisp, and leafy with no browning, and the dressing requires the right mix of citric bite yet balanced with deep garlic essence. The crouton must never be soggy or stale, but fresh and preferred made by the chef with garlic bread sticks. It is a good gauge to discover, if the chef has prepared the salad with care or not, how the rest of the menu will taste.

Also seafood and grilled chicken varieties exist for this salad, also a challenge when prepared with heated additions. The leaf and dressing should be cold, to contrast the spicy nature of the chicken or the battered seafood accomplice.

If you make your own Caesar Salad dressing, use Grolsch bottles with re-cappable lids.. very handy, stores well and looks oh so euro.
The Caesar Salad has nothing to do with Julius Caesar, or even the lesser known yet twice as cool Augustus. The Caesar Salad was invented in 1924 by a man named Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.

Cardini, born in 1896, was an Italian who emigrated to the United States shortly after World War I with his family. The family lived in San Diego, but opened the restaurant in Mexico in order to avoid the Prohibition laws. After that particular mess was repealed, the family opened a restaurant in the Los Angeles area.

In 1948, the Cardini family began bottling commercially their popular dressing, though since "Caesar dressing" was in the public domain, and recipes are not copy rightable, many competitors quickly sprung up. The Cardini's continued to sell their version as "Original Cardini Caesar Dressing."

Like every history, there are alternate versions. According to some accounts, it was Caesar's brother Alex Cardini who first mixed the dressing. Alex's included actual anchovies, whereas Caesar used only Worcestershire sauce to provide the fishy tang.

Caesar's daughter Rosa has provided most of the canonical history the dressing. In the 1960's she appeared on From Julia Child's Kitchen and outlined the recipe as Caesar originally did it. The basic elements are:

  • Bake some bread cubes, brushing them with olive oil that has been steeped in garlic (for days if possible).
  • Separate the inner leaves of romaine lettuce, leaving them whole.
  • Gently toss the romaine with the best olive oil you can get ahold of.
  • Season the romaine with some salt, pepper, some more olive oil and toss it all again.
  • Add lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and a coddled egg. Toss again.
  • Sprinkle with some Parmesan cheese. Toss.
  • Add croutons, and toss one last time.

Caesar served his salad with whole leaves that you would pick up and eat with your fingers. Note the lack of anchovies here, which I fully support.

I tried a recipe based on this for a moderately sized dinner. Here's what I did:

Garlic Croutons:

  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 2 heaping cups of 3/4 inch bread cubes.
  • Largish pinch salt

Salad

  • 3 romaine hearts. I used the stuff in bags, and took off the outer layer of leaves.
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 coddled egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of the best Parmesan you can get

Mixing it all up

  1. Mince some garlic add it to the olive oil. Letting it sit for a couple of days would be great, but 15 minutes can work too, in a pinch as it were. Strain the oil out and set the minced garlic aside.
  2. Heat up a skillet to medium hot. Drizzle your bread cubes with about 2-3 tablespoons of garlic oil, a pinch of salt, and toss well to coat the bread. Saute the bread cubes in the skillet until a nice golden brown.
  3. Cut out core of romaine lettuce and peel off outer, dark green leaves. Separate inner leaves, wash and dry.
  4. Whisk lemon juice, coddled egg, Worcestershire and reserved garlic in a bowl.
  5. Drizzle lettuce with oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Coat lettuce evenly.
  6. Drizzle lemon mixture over lettuce and toss again.
  7. Toss in the parmesan and the croutons, mixing it up yet again and serve immediately.

The guests loved it. The tangy, citrus flavor was incredibly good, and changed the Caesar experience for me. I would probably not leave the leaves whole in the future. Cut 'em up, toss in some grilled chicken and you got yourself an incredible treat.

References:
"Cook Smart" by Pam Anderson.Houghton Miflin Company, 2003.
http://www.kitchenproject.com/history/CaesarSalad.htm
http://www.foodreference.com/html/artcaesarsalad.html

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