Caesar Salad: A Recipe for the Real Thing

Posted by:
Susan Rooke
June 21, 2018

I was going to share this recipe weeks ago. Then, on the afternoon that I was driving to the grocery store to purchase the necessary ingredients, Glen called and invited me to lunch. Of course I took him up on it, figuring the grocery store could wait until the next day. That evening, contaminated romaine lettuce was all over the news, so I shelved the post for a future date when we could all, I hoped, eat romaine again without requiring hospitalization. Some days later, lettuce grown in Arizona was fingered as the culprit and Americans were cautioned to be sure of where lettuce came from before buying. The information seemed to hold up, but I waited a bit longer before finally buying California lettuce a few days ago. That night we ate Caesar Salad without suffering any ill effects. So caveat emptor, I guess, and thank heavens for timely lunch invitations from Glen.

The reason I wanted to share this recipe in the first place is because of the listless, boring concoctions that too often pass for Caesar Salad in restaurants these days. I miss what it used to mean: fresh, crisp romaine, dressed with a creamy emulsification of egg yolks and olive oil, redolent of parmesan, garlic and anchovies. The croutons were crunchy, made in-house from real bread. They weren’t tasteless Styrofoam cubes from a box. Such Caesars are rare now, though. Few even get within hailing distance of raw eggs, thanks to another food danger: salmonella.

Nobody wants to risk salmonella over a salad dressing, of course, but you don’t have to, because there are at least two options for avoiding it. You can buy raw, pasteurized-in-the-shell eggs (which in my area come in one size: large), or you can pasteurize them in the shell yourself. Since I can buy them already pasteurized, I’ve never done it myself, but google it and you’ll find plenty of sites describing the method.

Make the croutons first, and even the day before. Picky as I am about making my own bread, I make the croutons from a store-bought baguette. (It saves me a lot of time that I can then spend having a cocktail and relaxing with The Husband and The Daughter, as we did together just a few days ago. The Son-in-Law couldn’t come for this visit. Enjoy the pictures, Wesley!) Then, once the romaine is washed and thoroughly dried, the salad goes together quickly.

CAESAR SALAD

To Make the Croutons:

• Cut a baguette into ¼" or slightly thicker rounds.

• Brush both sides of each round with a mixture of olive oil and melted, unsalted butter in about equal proportions.
• Toast the croutons on both sides under the broiler until they are golden brown (and deliciously crunchy).

• Set the croutons aside. Once they have cooled, either continue to make the salad, or place them in an airtight container or plastic bag and store them at room temperature until ready to use.

To Make the Dressing:

In a mortar and pestle (or in a blender or on a cutting board, see Notes below):

Mash 3 anchovy fillets with 2 medium peeled garlic cloves (OR use 2 rounded tsp. anchovy paste instead of the fillets).

Stir in:

1 tsp. Colman’s Mustard powder
2 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
½ c. olive oil (you will likely need to add more)
several generous grindings of freshly ground black pepper
the juice of ½ of a large lemon

Transfer the mixture to a chilled, empty salad serving bowl and add:

2 large or extra-large raw egg yolks (from pasteurized eggs)

Whisk until the dressing thickens slightly. Taste it. You can add more of any of the previous ingredients at this point to create the particular balance of flavors that you want. Much depends on the size of the garlic cloves, how much juice the large lemon produces, etc. (I frequently add more olive oil.) Then add:

2 heaping Tbs. grated Parmesan (you’ll be adding more soon)
The reserved croutons, as many or as few as you like

Toss the croutons to coat with the dressing, then add:

1 head trimmed, washed and thoroughly dried romaine lettuce, cut across into broad strips
1 heaping Tbs. grated Parmesan (and even more, if you like)

Toss the salad very well, longer than you think necessary. A good two minutes works. Then, you know what to do. Enjoy!

Notes:

• I always slice the entire baguette and make croutons from all the rounds. The ones that don’t go in the salad make delicious crunchy crackers for soft cheeses and other spreads!

• To make the dressing, I use a mortar and pestle up through the step of adding the lemon juice. Then I transfer it to the bowl in which I’ll serve the salad and add the egg yolks, followed by the rest of the steps. You can use a cutting board to mash the anchovies and garlic together and then put it in the serving bowl to finish. Do whatever works for you. Some people prefer to use a blender, and in that case you’d probably have to reserve some of the olive oil to drizzle in after adding the egg yolks. I personally think too much of the dressing stays in the blender jar instead of going on the salad.
• There are legions of wooden salad bowl aficionados. I’m not one of them, preferring glass. To me, wooden salad bowls are infused with the funk of their dead salad ancestors.
• This Caesar is the version I came up with many years ago after watching it being prepared tableside on a number of occasions at many different restaurants, and this recipe reflects my tastes. For instance, I like lots of croutons because they’re heavenly when coated with the dressing. The quantities are very flexible. I've never seen a waiter get out a set of measuring spoons or a measuring cup. One thing I can tell you for sure is don’t use whole eggs. In the 1990s, I saw it made that way at a ritzy private club in San Antonio. The resulting Caesar was . . . how can I put this? . . . slimy.
• The Daughter and I love the leftover salad just as much as the freshly prepared. Yes, even the croutons. Please don’t throw any leftovers out until you’ve sampled them.

One more thing. I wrote this post while remembering the wonderful Anthony Bourdain. A terrific, engaging writer and introspective thinker. Witty, sharp, acerbic, snarky. Holder of often sneering opinions. I realize that he probably would have sneered at this post. But I wouldn’t care. I miss that sneer.

20 comments on “Caesar Salad: A Recipe for the Real Thing”

  1. sounds really good except for the anchovies. can't handle them.Hardly ever eat this salad because of that
    enjoy
    i am sure yours is the best ever!😊

    1. Antoine's in New Orleans used to have a salad that was a small bed of lettuce topped by a vinaigrette and about 20 anchovy fillets. I loved it! Unfortunately, it's off the menu now. I guess you have to really love anchovies to order it! 🙂

  2. Ah, Susan, we have interesting conflicts, but we share a common like for the wonderful salad concoction known as Caesar. The differences, some small, or not.

    Lemon - regardless of the size lemon, one-half always seems to come out right.
    I have been using the same "funky" (your words) wooden salad bowl which was an early gift from my first marriage, around 1958, by now a prized family heirloom.
    I wimp out and use Anchovy Paste, as I never could figure out what to do with the leftover anchovies.
    I have been using one whole egg straight from the carton for many years, never had a contaminated egg incident, to my knowledge, and what do you have against slime, anyway?
    Croutons - My dear Sue passed away in December, 2017. I am jealously husbanding her remaining frozen croutons. I was the bread slicer and dicer, she deep fried them . . . delicious. When they run out, rather than commit hara-kiri I may just try your method. Looks yummy, healthy and practical.
    Good parmesan cheese deserves a mention. We use parmigiano-reggiano, well worth the premium pricing. Would be interested in knowing what others select.
    Mixing the dressing - Since I wimp out and use anchovy paste, I mix all the ingredients with a wooden spoon in the WOODEN salad bowl. No need for heavy equipment. One note about the garlic, after slicing and chopping it, I find it effective to use the broad side of my knife to mash it into the cutting board before adding it to the dressing. I also add about 1 to 1 1/2 tbsp Regina Red Wine Vinegar to the mix (that's about four shakes of the wrist; I rarely actually measure anything).
    I hope everyone is paying attention to your admonishment to taste the dressing. Only then will you know to tweak it for a flavor which is not coming through, a rare occurrence, but important nonetheless.
    Thank you for sharing your recipe. Nothing beats a good Caesar. I suggest we all sit down to one soon, along with a glass of white wine to the honor of Monsieur Bourdain. ¡Salud!

    1. I'm so happy to hear from you, John! Yes, there are many differences among Caesars, but I think they're mostly unimportant, because the goal, it seems to me, is to get people to eat the real thing again instead of settling for something boring and tasteless.

      Total agreement on the lemon. Why does 1/2 of any size always seems to work? Who knows.
      If I had a family heirloom salad bowl, I'd probably use it too. (And then I might have to secretly wash it in dish-washing liquid when no one was in the kitchen!)
      I love anchovies, but the paste is so easy, and there aren't any little hair-fine bones to pick out of your teeth afterward.
      Deep fried croutons!! Be still, my heart!! Those sound amazing. The alternative I propose is delicious, though. Not so sure about healthy, because I did use a LOT of butter and olive oil to make an entire baguette's worth.
      Yes, I agree about good parmesan, definitely. My favorite substitute is dry Monterey Jack. It also makes wonderful pesto!
      My son-in-law uses your method to mash the garlic. I worry about things like that out here in the country without a hospital for miles around. And I've been using the mortar and pestle for, like, 1,000 years, so I'm comfortable with it. (It's probably as old as your salad bowl!)
      I have some Regina Red Wine Vinegar in the pantry; I'll give it a try!
      Yes, you HAVE to taste. How else will you know if you're happy with it? (I recommend a swipe through the dressing with a crouton. 😉 )

      Great suggestion! Katie and I are already craving a rerun. One Caesar was not enough, and the leftovers were impossibly delicious. And God bless him, a toast to Anthony. Another. I've made several, but he can't have too many, in my opinion.
      My parents' favorite toast: To golden days and purple nights!
      I'm very glad to hear from you John, thank you for reading and for weighing in so thoughtfully!

    1. They can be hard to find nowadays. But eating a homemade version is always better, I think. I just made more croutons today for a Caesar tomorrow night. Be sure to read John's comments, Diana, for a slightly different take!

  3. Great recipe, and perfect timing, as the broiling summer heat sets in. I can barely stand to be in the same room with the oven- but homemade croutons are worth heroic effort. The tip about using only the egg yolks is interesting- I will give that a try. I love cold summer suppers- salad, maybe shrimp cocktail or ceviche, guacamole, olives. I submit this request for a post on your gazpacho recipe.
    Also- important question here- what is your position on Sangria? I am greatly in favor of it.

    1. I’m having a cold dinner tonight myself – – rosemary and garlic-infused ham, thin slices of Jarlsberg cheese and jalapeño stuffed olives. Yum!

      OK, I will write a post for the gazpacho recipe, Claire, and thank you for the request! Probably a bit later this summer, since my broken hand is healing.

      I am greatly in favor of sangria too. I’ve never had white sangria, but I’d love to try it someday.

    2. Claire, you are leading us all down the garden path, in this case, a good thing. All of your additional suggestions have my mouth watering, and a good ceviche or gazpacho recipe, bring it on! Somebody, please!

      1. Definitely a good thing, John, and something that Claire excels at! And I'm SO glad you brought up ceviche--I have a recipe for that too. The gazpacho recipe I'll share someday is as lowbrow as it can be, straight from the late '50s, but I still love it. The ceviche, though, is the style I ate while living for a brief time in Panama City, Panama years ago. Delicious and simple, with only a handful of ingredients. There's not even any cilantro. I'll definitely post the recipe before the summer is out!

    1. Oh, great tip! I almost always have Parmesan on on hand, and more rarely asiago. But that’s very good for everyone to know.

    1. Thank you! Pottery Barn, several years ago. They were on sale and I bought the last eight that they had. Then I took them home and promptly broke one. Argh!

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