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.
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).
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!
• 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.