(a salad to die for)
I’m so obsessed with the ritual that I carry my well-worn salad bowl with me in a snare drum case when I take my show on the road. Pool sharks travel with their own cues; the concept is the same (and it doesn’t hurt that flight attendants mistake me for a drummer).
Most Caesar aficionados know where to find the best salad and are usually willing to trek miles across town to satisfy their craving. But few ever attempt to make one from scratch. Contrary to what anyone in a chef’s hat might want you to believe, there are no secret ingredients or difficult techniques.
However, a quintessential Caesar requires the harmonic convergence of several high-quality ingredients and some focus. In order to demystify the process, and make you the mac daddy of garlicky greens, I’ve isolated the most essential components.
Since the recipe was published in my first book, The Surreal Gourmet: real food for pretend chefs, I’ve received dozens of letters from readers who’ve mastered the dressing and been deified by their friends. The ultimate compliment came from a waitress in Toronto who took me aside and whispered, “Every time I make your Caesar salad for a date, I get laid.” I should be so lucky.
1) the bowl
2) the grind
3) the garlic
4) the lettuce
5) the cheese
6) the anchovy
7) the croutons
8) the legacy
(enough to top one salad)3 thick slices of slightly stale sourdough or rustic country-style bread cut into 3/4-inch cubes
3 T olive oil
1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Place bread cubes in a large bowl and add olive oil. Toss and squish the bread like a sponge until the oil is evenly absorbed.
3) Place croutons on a baking sheet or aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Try not to forget about them in the oven as I often do.
(Serves 6)1/4 t salt
1 t coarsely ground black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 anchovies (or 1 t anchovy paste)
2 t Dijon mustard (the real stuff, not the dried stuff)
1 egg yolk, coddled*
1 1/2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 t Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup safflower oil, or olive oil
1 1/2 t red wine vinegar
1 large head romaine lettuce, outer leaves discarded, remaining leaves washed and thoroughly dried. If lettuce looks anorexic or is in need of a serious trim, buy two heads
1 1/2 cups croutons (see recipe that follows)
1/2 cup grated imported Italian Parmegiano-Reggiano
* When I cook for others, the fear of a class-action lawsuit drives me to coddle. Place the eggs, in their shell, in boiling water 40 seconds. Remove, run under cold water 15 seconds to stop the cooking process, then use as directed.
1) Add salt and pepper to the salad bowl (this creates a sandpaper-like base that’ll make the next steps easier). Using the back of a soup spoon, grind garlic against the wall of the bowl until it becomes a paste. Then add anchovies, and once again use the back of the spoon to grind it into a paste. Follow the same procedure, adding the Dijon, egg yolk, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce one at a time. Make sure that each ingredient is blended into a smooth paste with the previous ingredients before proceeding.
2) Add oil and vinegar. Blend well.
3) Tear or slice lettuce leaves into bite-sized pieces and add to the salad bowl. Toss thoroughly with dressing.
4) Add croutons and cheese, toss again, then serve immediately.
If you don’t have a rough wooden salad bowl, the dressing can be made (with some sacrifice) in a blender. Add salt, pepper, garlic, anchovies, Dijon, lemon juice, Worcestershire and vinegar. Purée. Then add the oil and pulse a few times. Add egg yolk and pulse a couple more times – just enough to blend it without causing the dressing to turn mayonnaisey.
The lettuce leaves should be coated, but not soaked, in dressing. Adjust the amount of dressing as necessary to keep salad from becoming too “wet.”