Anatomy of a Dish: Caesar Salad
After a quick-thinking restaurateur rustled up a Caesar salad for a regular customer way back in the 1920s, a classic was born.
The time is Prohibition, the place is Tijuana. Thirsty citizens of the United States are crossing the border in search of legal drinking options. One busy weekend at Caesar's Place, the revellers have revelled so hard there's almost nothing left in the larder. Quick-thinking Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini throws together a salad with the few things lying about in the kitchen and a legend is born. Caesar Salad is carried back across the border by the Hollywood crowd, and goes on to be tossed tableside around the world. Over its travels and across the years it has been corrupted with grilled chicken, subjected to deconstruction and otherwise mucked around – 'How could a mere salad cause such emotion?' asked Julia Child – yet made simply and with good ingredients, its brilliance shines on nearly a century later.
Caesar Salad: the Essential Elements
Crisp, crunchy and cool cos is the foundation. Baby cos is sweet and retains its crunch once it's dressed, but lettuce with a bit more age has more flavour. Caesar Cardini is said to have left the leaves whole so diners could readily eat the salad with their fingers; If you're not feeling quite so Douglas Fairbanks-on-a-long-weekend, tear it into fork-friendly pieces.
The croutons give the salad crunch and soak up the dressing. Day-old sourdough or other crusty white bread is ideal. Shallow-fry the torn bread in oil or drizzle it with oil and bake it till it's golden. Leave the crusts on for extra crunch.
Drape the dressed cos leaves with whole anchovy fillets, there's nothing to hide behind so go for quality. Salt-packed is your best bet. A healthy shower of Parmigiano-Reggiano before serving is essential, while some boiled egg or bacon can make a meal of the salad without compromising its simplicity.
The original is generally thought to have been made without anchovies, with Worcestershire sauce bringing the punch, but life is better with anchovies. Pound a few to a paste with garlic, then mix in red wine vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil and salt and pepper; whisk in an egg yolk (coddled, or not) to give the dressing a creamy consistency and add Dijon mustard and Parmesan for extra oomph. Smooth, tangy and rich is what you're going for.
Has no place in a Caesar.
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