I love salad and this is definitely one of my Top 5. One of my pet peeves is a bastardized caesar salad. Last year I ate at a super fancy “in” Makati restaurant whose menu stated “Caesar Salad made the old fashioned way…” and when I cross-checked with the waiter if the lettuce used was Romaine he quickly said “yes” so I decided to give it a try. It was simply HORRIBLE!!! What emerged from the kitchen was a bowl of wet iceberg lettuce drenched in pre-made dressing that was so thick it could have come out of someone’s nasal passages. When I summoned the captain to tell him this was not romaine, and worse, not dressing made the “old fashioned way,” he just shrugged. Don’t you hate it when they do that? I asked for the chef (a foreigner, at that), and he later emerged and eventually apologized for the pathetic salad and sent dessert to our entire party of 8 to try and make up for it. Moral of the story, don’t mess with my Caesar salad, thank you.
Some basic history for those who care…otherwise skip this paragraph. The Caesar salad is almost universally credited to Cesar (Caesar, in American English?) Cardini, a chef and restaurant owner (with Italian heritage), in Tijuana, Mexico who created it around 1924. The story goes that he had run low on provisions when a fairly important party of customers arrived so he pulled together this salad from whatever he had around. It is almost certain that he used romaine lettuce, coddled eggs (soft-boiled), garlic, worcestershire sauce, lemons, olive oil, parmesan cheese, croutons, salt and pepper. There were probably no anchovies, dry or dijon mustard, and white or red vinegar in the original version. In latter versions, however, all of these ingredients become rather common. The salad was a hit and Cardini eventually moved north to California and started bottling his dressing and selling it commercially. It went on to become one of the most sought after salads in restaurants around the world.
I like two different versions of the dressing. The one I describe below (which is essentially the recipe from Zuni Cafe, in San Francisco, with just a few tweaks) and one that does include a touch of mustard and worcestershire. The salad is only as good as your ingredients so get the freshest and the best that you can afford. At any rate, making this at home is 1/4 the price of ordering it at a fancy restaurant so splurge, you will quickly appreciate the difference. The ingredients:
A few slices of country or heavy loaf bread, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt
800 grams of the crispest small romaine leaves, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 3/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon of chopped anchovy fillets, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped garlic (or more if you like but I find local garlic really strong), salt, two eggs, 1 and 1/2 cups grated parmesan (not out of a bottle or can), freshly cracked black pepper and 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice.
Wash the salad greens well then dry completely with a spinner and/or paper towels. Place in fridge to chill and crisp up. If the leaves are small enough I don’t cut them as they look better whole. Make the croutons by cutting bread into cubes, toss with olive oil and salt, and bake in a 350 degree F oven until golden brown. Set aside. Whisk together the vinegar, oil, anchovies, salt, garlic in a small mixing bowl. Add the eggs, two heaping tablespoons of cheese and black pepper. Whisk to mix well. Add the lemon juice and whisk again. Taste. Add more of any of the ingredients that you think you lack. Place romaine in a large bowl and add the dressing and the remaining cheese and mix well. Add croutons, toss some more and serve immediately. The salad you see here served six with very large portions — lettuce was P100, all other ingredients roughly P200 (using the best Parmigiano Reggiano available) so each portion was just P50 or so. Compare that with the P200+ that restaurants charge for pathetic attempts and you might just make this at home more often. Enjoy!