Warning: this post may contain an embedded rant or two.
In the kitchen this morning, I have two large dry crusts of French bread, three eggs and several heads of baby romaine lettuce from the farm box. This late spring day appears to be one of the warm variety. I don’t know if these ingredients suggest anything to you: to me they suggest Caesar Salad.
My mama told me that Caesar Salad contains anchovies in the dressing. Cursory internet research suggests that Cesare Cardini used Worchestershire sauce rather than anchovies. I don’t even like anchovies, but I was taught to chop them finely and put them in the dressing for a Caesar Salad, so I do. I would not eat them on pizza. I would not snack on them out of the tin. I have never dared to make a pasta puttanesca because of the anchovies in it, but I keep anchovies in a jar of olive oil just so that I can make this salad when the mood strikes or when the ingredients are sitting around in the kitchen.
Furthermore, I do not care for any egg preparation that involves soft egg yolks — or hard egg yolks, for that matter. That leaves out poached eggs, fried eggs, eggs sunny side up, deviled eggs, hard-boiled eggs and Easter eggs. But I make an exception for Caesar Salad dressing, which calls for a coddled egg, cooked for one minute before you mix it with the other dressing ingredients.
The salad that makes me set aside my food aversions is truly magical. You put in anchovies and barely cooked egg yolk, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, black pepper. You toss the dressing with croutons, Romaine leaves and freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a crunchy, green refreshing salad with adequate protein from fish, egg and cheese. There is no need to add shrimp or grilled chicken to this salad as many American restaurants do.
First, make garlic-infused olive oil. Heat some garlic cloves in olive oil and allow the garlic and oil to sit while you do other things. While you are at it, halve a raw clove of garlic and rub it onto your wooden salad bowl. If you like raw garlic, set aside a couple of cloves to squeeze into the salad, or pound them in a mortar or mince them with a knife. I actually like minced or pressed raw garlic better than the more subtle garlic oil.
Then make croutons. Chop your leftover French bread into cubes. We like to use stale sourdough. You can saute them in a little of your garlic oil, or you can toss them with some of it and bake them in your oven for a few minutes at 300 degrees. I usually bake my croutons. Sometimes I just bake sourdough bread without any oil: the croutons will absorb dressing from the salad anyway.
Then wash your romaine lettuce and dry it thoroughly in a dish towel or a salad spinner.Tear into bite-sized pieces unless you particularly enjoy the exercise of cutting lettuce with your fork. Place lettuce in your garlic-rubbed salad bowl.
Take two or three anchovies from a tin and mince them finely — no one wants a big bite of anchovy in this salad — we just want the flavor. Set them aside for now.
Grate some Parmesan cheese. 1/4 cup will do in a pinch, but you might want to use more to get the snow drift effect.
Halve one lemon and get ready to squeeze it.
Dress your lettuce with a small amount of garlic olive oil. Add minced garlic if using.
Now coddle an egg: boil it for one minute only. Remove it from the pot. Crack it right into your salad bowl and toss with the lettuce.
Add the minced anchovies and toss again.
Squeeze lemon directly onto the salad. Toss again.
Add croutons and grated Parmesan. Toss again.
Grind some fresh black pepper over the salad. Toss again.
Taste and adjust seasonings.
Food notes: If you can’t stand handling anchovies, you could try using anchovy paste in a tube. I have never used it. Please do coddle the egg and use it in the dressing: the slightly-cooked egg, anchovies and lemon are what creates the distinctive Caesar dressing. You cannot get the proper effect without the egg. You cannot get the proper effect without some form of anchovies — if you are afraid of them, try using a little less — start with one anchovy if you are squeamish and work your way up. You cannot skip the cheese either, or the croutons — if you do, you have not made a Caesar salad, but some other kind of romaine salad. You cannot make a vegan Caesar — don’t even try. If you are a vegan, find some other way to eat your romaine. You cannot make a kale Caesar either: by definition, Caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce. Got it? You have latitude with the garlic, the oil, and the croutons and the amount of anchovy you use. For the Parmesan, you need to get the good stuff and grate it yourself: this is not the time to use stale, pre-grated cheese or the stuff in the green can: when you are only using a few ingredients, they need to be the freshest and finest you can get. That chicken and shrimp? Save them for another entree or cook and serve them on the side, please. Once you try the real Caesar salad, you will love it or hate it, but at least you will know what it is, that you have tried Caesar salad and not one of the many abominations that blacken and borrow its name.
If you’ve made it through the rant, you may notice that I put no salt in the dressing: both anchovies and cheese pack a lot of salt and I don’t miss it. But I did say you could adjust seasonings: that is code for add lemon, salt, pepper, garlic or cheese to taste. Enjoy. And if you experience any revelations after making proper Caesar salad, please come back to testify in the Comments section.