Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hail Caesar!

I have a friend who almost always (at least 95% of the time) orders a Caesar salad to start any meal out. I've got to think that of those salads, at least 95% of them have to be terrible. When I order a Caesar salad from a place I've never been, I wind up with an overdressed salad that's been tossed with crappy bottled dressing. Great Caesar's ghost! Who could eat that garbage? The restaurants that actually make their own Caesar dressing seem to be few and far between, and making a Caesar salad table side seems to have gone out with Prohibition.

The origin of the Caesar salad is up for some debate, but supposedly was invented by restaurateur Caesar Cardini on the fourth of July in 1924 when due to a rush, his restaurant became low on supplies. In order to keep serving his customers he just started throwing things together on the fly, tossing the historic salad table side for dramatic effect. What an innovator!

Fortunately (for me!) the food geeks at Cook's Illustrated decided to break down a classic Caesar salad recipe in the latest issue. My only attempt has been to make a faux Caesar dressing out of tofu. (I know!) My favorite discovery in the Cook's recipe is that they make garlic "paste" by grating a clove on a rasp style grater. Amazing! The pieces just disappear. Why didn't I think of that before? Anyway, this recipe is for diehards since it includes raw egg yolks and anchovy fillets in the dressing. It's what makes a Caesar a Caesar...though supposedly Cardini didn't use anchovies, but then again, he isn't available for questioning.

Caesar Salad
(Adapted from Cook's Illustrated January/February 2011)

1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste (from 1 clove grated on a rasp)
1/2 - 3/4 loaf ciabatta cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Dressing & Salad
3/4 teaspoon garlic paste (from 1 clove grated on a rasp)
2 - 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets, minced fine and mashed to a paste with a fork
2 large egg yolks
5 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
2 - 3 romaine hearts, cut crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces, rinsed and dried very well

1. For the Croutons: Combine 1 tablespoon oil and garlic paste in a small bowl
and set aside. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl and sprinkle with water and salt. Toss, squeezing gently so that the bread absorbs the water. Place the remaining 4 tablespoons of oil and soaked bread cubes in a 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, 7 - 10 minutes.

2. Remove the skillet from the heat and push the croutons to the sides of the skillet to clear the center of the pan. Add the garlic/oil mixture and cook with the residual heat of the pan, 10 seconds. Sprinkle the croutons with Parmesan and toss until the garlic an cheese are evenly distributes. Set aside.

3. For the Salad: Whisk the garlic paste and 2 tablespoons lemon juice together in a large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

4. Whisk the Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, and egg yolks into the garlic/lemon juice mixture. While whisking constantly, drizzle the canola oil and olive oil into the bowl in a slow steady stream until it fully emulsifies. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan and pepper to taste. Whisk until incorporated.

5. Add the romaine to the dressing and toss to coat. Add the croutons and mix gently until evenly distributed. Taste and season with up to 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Serve immediately, with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serves about 4.


spinney said...

Doh! Mike and I have gone through several iterations of trying to get this classic right. And one of our most spectacular failures came from a previous issue of... Cook's Illustrated.

Glad to hear this one is a winner!


stacy said...

Am I that friend? I always order Caeser salad! But I agree, most of them are awful. And I hate when it's nothing but lettuce and dressing. How can they omit the ever crucial crouton? And cheese!
Well, your version looks DIVINE!

WendyB said...

Wow...I hadn't thought about Caesars being made tableside in forever. That used to be the chic thing to do!