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May 15, 2020

Caesar’s Salad

Say, do you like Caesar's salad?  I was introduced to this delightful salad while on one of our first dates with my future husband.  This salad is one of our family’s favorite.  It consists of simple ingredients: romaine lettuce and a dressing made of lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper and topped with croutons.


The salad was “invented” in Tijuana, Mexico, by restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant.  On the Fourth of July in 1924, a rush at his restaurant Caesar's (at the Hotel Cesar) depleted the kitchen's supplies.  Cardini made do with what he had left, and with dramatic flair proceeded to prepare and toss his salad table-side in front of his guests!

Hotel Caesar

Fast forward to the present time.  Every time he visits, my son always asks me to make Caesar's salad.  I've given him the recipe many times.  But each time we are together, he watches me like a hawk, when I make it.  He claims the way I make it tastes the best.  He claims, he's not been able to replicate it, even though he follows my instructions to a T.  I told him there are 2 reasons behind that: (1) food always tastes better, when you don't have to make it, but the difference number (2) is:  I prepare it with love!


When we travel, sometimes some of the ingredients just are not available, so you may attempt to substitute certain items.  It will still be good, but… As with everything, the final taste depends on the quality of the ingredients you use. Here is a brief description of them:


Romaine or cos lettuce is a variety of lettuce that grows in a tall head of sturdy dark green leaves with firm ribs down their centers. Unlike most lettuces, it is tolerant of heat. – In our travels, sometimes I just cannot find Romaine lettuce, and have substituted other lettuce varieties: green leaf, red leaf and butter lettuce (in the US and Canada), Batavia and Feuille de Chene (France and the Caribbean), however never use Iceberg or Crisphead lettuce, it just has no flavor and is way too watery; spinach, endive, arugula or rocket – too bitter.


Olive Oil – I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) from Mediterranean countries (Italy, France, Spain, Greece, although I’ve had some really good Mexican EVOO too!).  It is the highest grade of virgin oil derived by cold mechanical extraction without the use of solvents or refining methods.  Choosing a cold-pressed olive oil can be similar to selecting a wine. The flavor of these oils varies considerably by country of origin.  Do not substitute olive oil with any other oil!  Never, ever!


Worcestershire sauce – here I’m very picky.  It has to be Lea & Perrins brand. Chemists John Wheeley Lea and William Henry Perrins from Worcester in Worcestershire, England were its creators.  They went on to form the company Lea & Perrins. This is a fermented fish sauce containing anchovies, barley malt vinegar, molasses, sugar, onions, garlic, and other spices.  So, if you are allergic to fish, or are vegans, or vegetarian, this is not a recipe for you!  It may be difficult to chase down Worcestershire sauce in other countries.  Ask for “English Sauce”, “Salsa Inglesa” in Mexico, or “Sauce Anglaise” in French-speaking countries and see, where the staff directs you.  But it has to be Lea & Perrins.  Skip this recipe, if you can’t find Lea & Perrins. 


Dijon Mustard – this is the traditional mustard of France.  It is named after the town of Dijon in Burgundy, France.  During the late Middle Ages, the city of Dijon was the center of mustard making and was granted exclusive rights in France in the 17th century.  The main ingredients of this condiment are brown mustard seeds, white wine vinegar, water, and salt.  When first opened, a jar of Dijon mustard can have quite a “zip” or “heat”.  This will mellow the longer you keep it.  I have also discovered that how you store this mustard greatly affects its heat!  Since being stuck in the Lesser Antilles due to Covid and its travel restrictions, I noticed that the Dijon mustard loses its "heat" here in the warm climate.


Parmesan Cheese – or Parmigiano-Reggiano is an Italian hard, granular cheese that is produced from cow's milk and has aged 12-36 months.  The cheese was named after the producing areas of both Parma and Reggio Emilia, which are provinces in Italy. "Parmigiano" is the Italian adjective for Parma and "Reggiano" for Region Emilia. Parmesan has been called the "King of Cheeses" and a "practically perfect food"!  – I have found, that the better the quality of Parmesan cheese I can find, the better my salad tastes!  Never use the Parmesan cheese you find in the dry food pasta isle of your supermarket that sells macaroni and cheese instant dinners right next to the round green card board box containers of some popular multi-national brand name Parmesan cheese.  You will be disappointed!  Head to the refrigerated cheese section instead that carries freshly grated and vacuum-packed cheese.  You won’t be disappointed.


Anchovy Filets – they are usually packed in oil in small tins or jars. In the US and Baja California, I find them on the shelf in the canned fish aisle near the canned tuna.  In Canada, France, and the Caribbean, they can be found in the refrigerated food section.


Eggs  - my recipe below calls for 2 egg yolks.  Since I don’t like to waste food, if I do not bake a cake, make pancakes, or meringue within a day, I use a whole egg, and not the 2 yolks.  Both versions are yummy.


Here is the basic recipe:

Caesar’s Salad

3-6 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained (or I’ve used Anchovy paste when I’ve run out of anchovy fillets)
1-2 garlic cloves (peeled)
2 large egg yolks (I actually use 1 whole egg!)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more (I eyeball this, and use juice of ¼ to ½ lemon, depending on acidity of the lemon, if the lemon is really sour, I use less; sweeter I use more)
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce (I’ve tried others, this one’s gives the best flavor)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Romaine lettuce, washed, torn and dried (if available, I use a salad spinner to dry the lettuce, otherwise, I dry them with kitchen towels)

 

Depending on what kind of tools I have on hand (remember, we travel a lot, and it depends on how the kitchen is equipped), if a garlic press is available, I use that to process the garlic and anchovies.  Otherwise, I chop the anchovy fillets and garlic together on a cutting board.  I use the side of a knife blade or a fork to mash them into a paste and then scrape this paste into a large salad bowl.  Then I add the egg (see the note above), lemon juice, and mustard, and whisk everything together.  Next, slowly, I add the olive oil until I get a thick and glossy dressing.  Finally, I add the grated Parmesan.  Just before serving, I add the washed and dried torn lettuce.  If the lettuce is wet, the dressing won’t stick to it.  Then, using 2 soup spoons toss the leaves to coat them with the dressing.

 

Now the salad is ready to serve.  Fill the salad bowls or salad plates with your Caesar's salad, sprinkle some more Parmesan on top, add some croutons, and finally top with some freshly ground pepper.

 

Bon Appetit!



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2 comments:

  1. I will try it for sure! Look so delicious, thank you for the sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Cassandre. It IS delicious.

      In fact, I made it as a complete supper last night with one change: I had some left-over grilled chicken.

      After making the dressing, but before adding the lettuce, I added the diced chicken. Then I stirred everything up, to make sure the chicken was coated with the dressing. Only then I added the lettuce, and tossed everything.

      I served it with some garlic bread on the side.

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