Decoding: Caesar Salad

Title

A Caesar salad by definition is: a salad of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with parmesan cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and black pepper.  It may be prepared tableside.

When pondering the origin of the Caesar salad; one often conjures up visions of granduer such as it being created for Julius Caesar or even for Cesar Ritz, the great hotelier in the late 1800’s by his famous Chef Escoffier.  Unfortunately the real truth is somewhat less romantic.

CoverThe salad’s creation is generally attributed to restauranteur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the United States.  Cardini invented the dish in 1924 when a Fourth of July rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the dramatic flair of the table-side tossing “by the chef.”  The original Caesar salad recipe did not contain pieces of anchovy; the slight anchovy flavor comes from the Worcestershire sauce. Cardini was opposed to using anchovies in his salad.

Ingredients according to the Hotel Caesar’s recipe

  • romaine or cos lettuce
  • olive oil
  • fresh crushed garlic – often in olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • fresh-ground black pepper
  • wine vinegar
  • lemon juice or lime juice – fresh squeezed
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • egg yolks
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • freshly prepared croutons

The dressing is the key to a Caesar.  Get that right and you have won half the battle.  Most commonly chefs will get a packet mayonnaise and try to doctor it up with a few “Caesar” ingredients.  Make the dressing from scratch and use all good quality ingredients.  You will be amazed at the difference at what it should really taste like compared to the 99% of rubbish that has been passed off to you over the years under the same name.

The next is the lettuce.  Only Romaine/Cos!  Sorry people but iceberg has no place in a Caesar salad.  If you don’t have Romaine lettuce then don’t make a Caesar.  You wouldn’t try to make a potato salad without potatoes; would you?  The Romaine lettuce should be crisp and fresh.  I like to use a mix of the older outer leaves and the crisp sometimes bitter heart.  It gives a great contrast in the salad, both visually and in taste.

Lettuce

This next point is the single most important and the most common mistake made when making a Caesar.  THE LEAVES MUST BE SPUN DRY in a salad spinner.  A good dressing will coat the leaves, as the dressing is oil based; any amount of water will thin it down and result in a weak flavour.  So it is imperative that the leaves are as dry and possible so the dressing really grips the leaves.

Since the salads creation in the 1920’s, there have been many recreations and adaptations with just about every chef putting his/her own spin on this classic.  Additions like prawns, chicken, smoked salmon, poached eggs and pancetta have become ubiquitous items on menus alongside the salad.

The Tasting Room, Mumbai, India

The Tasting Room, Mumbai, India

The Tasting Room:  This just looked very wilted and tired from the time it arrived at the table.  The lettuce was clearly not fresh.  The croutons had the same challenge and tasted rancid.  The dressing lacked overall flavour and quantity given was not sufficient.  It did not coat the leaves properly

Indido Deli Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, India

Indigo Deli Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, India

Indigo Deli:  The presentation was good and it appeared to have generous quantities of bacon and parmesan.  The bacon seemed to be deep-fried which was a little disappointing.  Some of the lettuce was good put 50% was extremely old lettuce that had been mixed through.  The dressing, while flavoursome, came across very mild as it had been diluted but the residual water from the lettuce.  Croutons, while fresh were tasteless.

Smoke House Deli Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, India

Smoke House Deli Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, India

Smoke House Deli:  I really enjoyed the presentation of this salad.  A great bowl was used to showcase it.  Unfortunately, the lettuce was a mix of Romaine and iceberg.  The bacon was rather fatty which was notice because it was served cold.  If it was warmed up, it would have made a huge difference.  The dressing was tasty but as the lettuce was not dried it gave the salad a heavy damp look to it.  An appearance, almost as if it had been sitting on the kitchen pass for too long.  The croutons were fresh and tasty and gave an enhanced kick of garlic to the salad.

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About chefcjcooper

A kiwi chef - food, wine and cigar aficionado; travelling the globe and sharing my tales of culinary discoveries.

2 comments

  1. I love Caesar salad…. nice and simple to make.

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