Caesar (Cesar) Salad

I love salad and this is definitely one of my Top 5. One of my pet peeves is a bastardized caesar salad. caesar1Last 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. caesar4 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. caesar2The 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. caesar3Add 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!


14 Responses

  1. if a restaurant can’t serve something as classic as caesar salad right, then by all means they should arrest the owners for impersonating as restaurateurs.

  2. A man of like minds!!! I am all for the death penalty for Caesar salad abusers. We should start a vigilante group that outs restaurants with bastardized caesar salads. :)

  3. I’ll join that vigilante group for those restos serving
    bad caesar salad. My favorite caesar is the one served at TGIF and the one being delivered at the offices called Goolai
    by All those that I have tried are
    questionable. Thanks for the recipe. :-)

  4. I find the Goolai caesar salad is a bit dry… and lately their greens aren’t too good, I like the italianni’s version… or maybe I haven’t been subjected to something really good =)

  5. For me, Burgoo caesar salad is the best. Esp. their Seafood Caesar salad. It has calamari, grilled shrimps, etc. You should give it a try. Whenever i willgo and visit their store, every table has it. :)

  6. I’m with you on that, Ingrid. I truly enjoy Burgoo’s seafood caesar salad. My wife and I actually go to Burgoo sometimes just to have it.

    This may make Marketman line me up for the death penalty, but I’m a big mustard fan, and I find that increasing the amount of mustard ever so slightly has always improved the flavor of the anchovies, IMHO. Just my thoughts. *runs away from Marketman*

  7. Technically, your recipe is a “bastardized” version of the original Cesar salad. Cesar Cardini, creator of the Cesar Salad in 1948, opposed the use of anchovies in his famous salad. Do the research, please! Anyone who thinks putting anchovies in a Cesar salad makes it authentic is kidding themselves. I, too, hate it when people bastardize a Cesar Salad. By putting anchovies in your recipe, you trump its originality! Anchovies are okay in the salad, but certainly not original.

  8. Antonio, if you bothered to read the post, it DOES say the original probably DID NOT include anchovies, based on internet and cookbook research, and hence the recipe I describe (as the ones I LIKE, not necessarily the ORIGINAL) are the later versions, specifically, the recipe used at ZUNI cafe (not my own) and then a second one with only worcestershire and mustard. So before you get so high and mighty with your comments, figure out how to read and comprehend an entry first… duh. Further, his bottled commercial dressing DID include anchovies, so it is an ingredient even in his own later iterations of his “original” recipe. Finally, a quick google points to several sources that list the “invention” of this recipe in the 1920’s or even 1924 to be more specific, so your brilliant research that it was made in 1948, is news to me… perhaps you would like to spend your time correcting those erroneous sources first, before anything else on the salad front…

  9. Found your article when looking for recipes and was pretty put off by your comment “I asked for the chef (a foreigner, at that)”. You should know that it is a great priveldge to eat out in restaurants in the first place, and to be served by those in the kitchen who come from all parts of the world. Hope I never have to be your waitress.

  10. Meaghan, perhaps you have read too much into this, or out of context. The blog is based in Manila. Caesar salad is NOT native to the Philippines. It is MORE common to North America, and the “Chef” of this celebrated local restaurant was known for his FOREIGN style dishes. And his being foreign was something the restaurant used in their PR material on purpose, setting themselves out as “superior” and “differentiated” from purely locally staffed restaurants. So to be served a version of this western salad that was glaringly pathetic is the main issue, not that the chef who WAS foreign and I suppose we mistakenly assumed would know how to make a decent Caesar salad given his much touted credentials. If you were a waitress (which by the way, is a SERVER these days, waitress being akin to calling a flight attendant a STEWARDESS) at our table and you couldn’t properly describe the salad, even after a visit to the kitchen to inquire as to its ingredients, you definitely wouldn’t get a tip. :( The Philippines was a colony of Spain, England, Japan and the United States for 400+ years, so a foreigner here, connotes something very different from references in the U.S., where I am assuming you reside, that was once our colonizer. You need to perhaps consider a broader frame of reference for your perceived biases before shooting off an email based on one post out of nearly 1,800 food posts on this blog.

  11. Very well said, Marketman. If we’re in a culinary school and you’re my professor, I’ll probably be sitting at the back of the class. Your comments are very straightforward. However, I will never miss any of your lectures coz you are indeed a very good mentor.

  12. So what if Marketman commented about the restaurant and the chef not living up to his standards?! They are his standards anyway. Oh and Meaghan about this “great priveldge (you mean privilege?) to eat out in restaurants” anyone in the food service industry should know that the privilege is to be able to serve satisfied guests.

    Thank you for sharing the recipe, I used the dressing for my greens during dinner time. My 12 year old sister substituted your croutons though for a pack of Oishi bread and the end result was nonetheless satisfying!

  13. I love caesar salad and I just gave up looking for a good caesar salad here in Doha. I can’t even find a romaine lettuce here. One time, I ordered caesar’s salad at a restaurant and only the top part of the salad is romaine lettuce!

    Finally, i decided I want to try making my own dressing. How can I not think of that sooner? :) I’ll try your recipe. I’m sure it’s good…

  14. i got to say this, mr. mm… you got me hooked. you’e blog is both entertaining and informative. wish i could pass the blame on you for making me go late to an appointment… it’s because i started reading your blog from entry #1.

    good job, sir!



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