Great Caesar salad

By on March 28, 2011

Let me introduce myself. I am Rosie Hawthorne and I have a food blog — Kitchens Are Monkey Business. I write about food, my family, food, our travels, food, my menagerie of two-legged and four-legged critters, food, my garden and food.



Mr. Hawthorne has given me the theme of my blog: Every meal is a celebration of life. 
And we celebrate life a lot — while eating one meal, we’re planning our next. It’s that survival instinct kicking in.



I will offer you the food that Mr. Hawthorne and I make. Food that we love. Food that sates us. Food that comforts us. Food that we make over and over and over again. Because it’s that good.



Today, I’m making Caesar salad with Rosie’s Homemade Herbalicious Croutons.




The general consensus is that the Caesar salad originated in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1920s. Caesar Cardini, an Italian, had a small hotel and restaurant that the Hollywood crowd and San Diego socialites frequented, driving across the California border to escape Prohibition.

The story goes that on July 4, 1924, people arrived in droves at Cardini’s restaurant. There were not enough fresh vegetables to go around and the kitchen was in a panic. Even though in the 1920s, Americans weren’t wild about salads — they were considered exotic, foreign, and basically food for sissies — Cardini thought he could make a salad tableside using ingredients basic to every Italian kitchen: Romaine lettuce, garlic, lemon, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan cheese, croutons, and a coddled egg. And no, this Caesar salad had no anchovies. The only anchovies were those in the Worcestershire sauce.

Thus, in a rather desperate act to feed the deluge from the Los Angeles area that had descended upon him, Caesar Cardini went a little Hollywood himself and, with considerable dramatic flair, “performed” tableside at his restaurant, creating the Caesar salad. Every table of diners that night ordered one.



The inimitable Julia Child wrote about her experience at Cardini’s restaurant in her book,
 “From Julia Child’s Kitchen:”



One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the prohibition era. People came down from the Los Angeles area in droves to eat in the restaurants; they drank forbidden beer and cocktails as they toured the bars of the town; they strolled in the flowered patio of Agua Caliente listening to the marimba band, and they gambled wickedly at the casino. Word spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad.

My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remember his every move, but I don’t. The only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe.



Almost 50 years later, when Julia was planning one of her television programs that was to include Caesar salad, she contacted Caesar’s daughter, Rosa, to discuss her father’s chef d’oeuvre.



She was born five years after her father created his masterpiece, she said, but she knew every detail because it had been so much discussed and remembered. As we went over each move, the salad began to take on life for me. At first, she said, Caesar used only the tender inside leaves, the hearts, of romaine, and he served them whole, arranging each portion on a large, chilled dinner plate, leaf by leaf; you picked up a leaf by its stem end, and you ate it in your fingers, leaf by leaf. What a great idea! What fun for television. But, she went on, since most Americans do not like plucking up sauced items with their finger – witness the reaction to lobster a l’americaine served in the shell – he later changed to bite-sized pieces.

Was there anything special in the way he manipulated the salad? Yes, he had a uniquely Caesar way of tossing the salad. In fact, he didn’t toss it, he scooped the leaves to make them turn like a large wave breaking toward him, to prevent those tender shoots of green from bruising. Again, drama, and a new twist for our show. How about anchovies, mustard, herbs, and so forth? No! No anchovies! Caesar never used anything but the best oil, fresh lemons, salt and pepper, a little Worcestershire — that’s where those anchovies crept into so many of the recipes I had seen: Worcestershire does have a speck of anchovy. Caesar also insisted on the best and freshest Parmesan and homemade croutons basted with oil in which fresh garlic had been steeped.



A Caesar salad, properly made, is a thing of beauty, exquisite flavor, and tempting textures.



I just realized something. I have never had Caesar salad outside my own home or a restaurant. I know of no one that makes their own Caesar salads except Mr. Hawthorne and me. And I think that’s kind of sad. I know people enjoy them in restaurants, but I wonder why no one makes their own.



Shall I address the elephant in the room? Is it the anchovies? I am aware some consider the anchovy as sporting a certain “ick” factor, so if that’s the case here, let me make it easier for you.

Instead of using the little buggers in the tins, you could actually substitute anchovy paste (1-2 TB). I prefer the real deal since the flavor is more robust.

If you’re antsy about coddled eggs and salmonella, the pH level of the dressing is thought to be acidic enough to kill these bacteria. And if you’re eating your eggs sunny-side up or over-easy, you’re taking the same risk. For the record, both the US FDA and CDC caution against eating raw eggs in any form and advise you to cook eggs completely and thoroughly. Well, that would rule out Hollandaise, Bearnaise, chocolate mousse, Baked Alaska, and homemade eggnog. I can’t live life like that, so to me, it’s a non-issue.




I’m starting off with the croutons, since they take a while.



Rosie’s Herbalicious Croutons


1 stick LOLUB
 (Land O’ Lakes Unsalted Butter)

1/4 cup olive oil ELBOO
 (Extra Light Bertolli Olive Oil)

4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced

Fresh herbs (about 2 TB each):

sage

thyme
rosemary

parsley
oregano

I go a little extra on the parsley and oregano.

1 loaf of bread, Italian or French, torn into pieces



Of course I’m waiting for LOLUB and ELBOO to be accepted into the mainstream culinary lexicon, like Rachael’s EVOO and Anne Burrell’s ridiculous BTB RTS. (That would be Bring To Boil Reduce To Simmer.)



You could use dried herbs, but it won’t be as good. Also if you use dried, cut back to 1-2 teaspoons, since dried is stronger than fresh. Don’t bother with dried parsley. It’s a waste.


Heat butter & olive oil in large skillet over medium heat.

Add herbs and saute a minute or so to infuse the flavors.

Add in garlic, stirring for a few seconds.

Do not brown garlic; it’ll get bitter and ruin everything.

Toss torn bread crumbs into butter/herb mixture.
Sautee for a few minutes.

Pour single layer of seasoned cubes onto baking pan.

Bake in slow oven (250 degrees) until crispy, about an hour or so.

Toss every 20 minutes.


Rosie’s Caesar Salad Dressing

4-6 cloves garlic

1 tin anchovies, drained and rinsed

2 lemons

2 TB Dijon mustard

2 TB Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1 large egg, coddled

1 – 1 1/2 cups olive oil
 (I use ELBOO.)

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I use Il Villagio from the Teeter.)



Mince garlic and coarse chop anchovies, then mash into a paste.
 A mortar and pestle works well here.

Whisk in the juice of 2 lemons.

Add 2 TB Dijon mustard
 and 2 TB Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce.

Whisk in 1 coddled egg. To coddle an egg, boil water and let the egg sit in the boiled water for one minute. Consider the egg coddled and whisk it in.

Slowly whisk in a thin stream of olive oil to emulsify. 

Add in about 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese.



I always taste test as I go along. For my tastes, I like lots of lemon. If you prefer more of the mustard or Worcestershire, then adjust it for your tastes. If you think you might have made something too strong, adding extra oil can usually take care of that. I give you my basic recipe only as a guideline. Feel free to adjust according to your own tastes.



To assemble, tear Romaine lettuce, preferably just-picked from your garden, into bite-sized pieces. Gently toss with dressing to coat and add in some of the best croutons to ever pass your lips. If desired, grate additional Parmesan over top.



What would be lovely when you get adept at making this, is to buy one of those big, beautiful, wooden bowls and stun your dinner guests as you make the dressing in the bowl sur la table and gently toss your Romaine hearts in the uniquely Cardini way of “scooping under the leaves, turning them like a large green wave breaking towards you to prevent those tender shoots from bruising,” all the while regaling your guests with the origin of Caesar salad.

Pure dinner theater. You’d be a star!


Rosie’s step-by-step instructions for her Caesar salad and croutons »

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