For most people, salad has negative connotations. Sure, they’re typically healthy, but rarely chosen over seemingly more sating options. The Caesar salad, however, is one of the few examples that straddles the thin line between salad and comfort food.
Said to have been invented by Italian-immigrant Caesar Cardini in 1924, the Caesar salad is generally considered one of the United States’ most famous dishes, though it actually originated in Mexico: specifically at Hotel Caesar in Tijuana, Mexico. Although Cardini lived in San Diego, he operated a restaurant in Tujuana during the early 1920s to circumvent Prohibition, with alcohol sales formerly responsible for most of restaurants’ profits.
During an especially busy 4th of July dinner, Caesar Cardini claims to have invented the dish using raw eggs, parmesan cheese, romaine lettuce, and other leftovers in the kitchen, which was rapidly running out of produce. Prepared tableside, in a large bowl, the salad quickly became popular in both Tijuana and California, before going on to become one of the most popular dishes in the United States, served in countless restaurants and hotels.
The precise origins of the dish are often disputed, however, with others having laid claim to inventing the dish. Caesar’s brother, Alex Cardini, claims to have developed the salad, named ‘Aviator’s Salad’, as did Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardinis. Livio Santini, an employee of Hotel Caesar also claims to have introduced the dish to Caesar, based on a recipe served by his mother at home in Italy. Regardless, the dish is still generally accredited with being created in Mexico, by an Italian.
Unlike many other salads, the Caesar salad has very few components beside the dressing: a hodgepodge of well-suited ingredients which come together to produce a decadent sauce that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. Egg yolks are essential, as are Dijon mustard, parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, and either lime or lemon juice. Anchovies are also commonly used, while the original is said to have used Worcestershire sauce.
For this Caesar salad recipe, the key components are restored, but with a few changes. Raw egg yolks are fine, but to produce a richer dressing, this recipe uses semi-soft boiled yolks, which are finely chopped with anchovies and roasted garlic, which is mashed into a paste and whisked with Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, lemon or lime juice, and a healthy dash of red wine vinegar. The dressing is then drizzled over whole romaine lettuce leaves, finished with quickly toasted croutons and an extra flourish of grated parmesan.
- 4 large, free-range eggs
- 4 cloves garlic
- 6 anchovy fillets ideally high-quality
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for croutons
- 3 tbsp neutral oil such as rapeseed or vegetable oil
- 30 g parmesan cheese finely grated, plus extra for serving
- 2 tbsp lemon or lime juice
- 100 g stale crusty bread
- 450 g romaine lettuce hearts
- Sea salt
- Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4.
- Wrap the garlic cloves in a square of foil and drizzle with some olive oil and season with a pinch of salt. Tightly wrap the foil and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes until lightly golden and soft.
- Tear the bread into small chunks and add to a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes to toast.
- While the garlic and croutons are in the oven, bring a saucepan of water to the boil and add 4 large eggs. Bring back to the boil and decrease the heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 6 minutes, then remove the eggs from the plan and plunge into a bowl of ice cold water. Once cool enough to handle, crack the eggs and remove the yolk. It should still be slightly soft.
- Place the eggs on a chopping board with the drained anchovy fillets, roasted garlic cloves and a generous pinch of salt. Finely chop everything and use the side of the knife to mash it all into a thick paste. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the Dijon mustard, pepper, and vinegar.
- Slowly drizzle the olive oil into the bowl, while whisking continuously. Once combined, repeat with the neutral oil and continue to whisk until emulsified. At this point, add the lemon/lime juice and the parmesan. Mix and add a little cold water if need be to thin the dressing to a perfect, thick-yet-pourable consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if necessary.
- To assemble, divide the romaine lettuce leaves between the plates and drizzle with the dressing. Top with croutons and some additional parmesan shavings.