The Perfect Caesar Salad
There’s a ritual and a bit of alchemy to the perfect Caesar Salad. The question is whether or not you have the patience to master the formula and put up with some of the fussy steps.
I am not for one minute going to try and recount the history of the Caesar salad. Too many people have laid claim to it although my vote is still for a guy named Cardini. Regardless, this salad combination is not only a steak-house favorite but my family’s favorite. Here’s how I’ve taught my kids to make it.
To begin with, Romaine is the lettuce of choice. Take two bunches and rinse under cold water, cut out the large ribs on every leaf, roll the remaining leaves in a towel to dry and then tear them by hand into small pieces. Don’t like doing all that? No problem. Make something else. This is a necessary and continually fussy step towards the perfect Caesar.
Now make some croutons. Cut some bread into large cubes and bake at 250° on top rack for about 15 minutes. Toss and give it another 15 minutes or so until crispy through and through.
Now you have to make a paste. This consists of 3 whole anchovies, 3 garlic cloves diced, a 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt and a 1/2 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Chop the anchovies and garlic on a cutting board, add the salt and pepper and crush and spread it all across the board with the back of a tablespoon until you have a paste. Scrape this off and put into a bowl.
To the paste in the bowl add 3 tablespoons of Grey Poupon, a tablespoon of red-wine vinegar, a teaspoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce and whisk it all together. Slowly drizzle 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil into the mixture and whisk constantly to emulsify. Add 2 tablespoons of Mayonnaise. Yep, mayo. We used to add the yolk of a coddled egg (an egg boiled for one minute) but mayo is egg and oil and I think it tastes better. Do the coddled egg yolk if you must, but whisk into the mix until your wrist hurts.
Add a 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and whisk into the mix. Don’t add any more or less -both Parmesan and the lemon can really throw off the flavor if you’re not precise. Spoon the dressing over the torn Romaine and toss. Put into serving bowls and top with big, thin slices of freshly shaved Parmesan, a couple of anchovies and top with about a dozen croutons. If someone doesn’t like anchovies on top you probably don’t want to tell them about the anchovies you mashed to start this recipe at the beginning. They’ll never notice and ask for a second helping. If that’s the case you might want to double the recipe. Don’t even think about trying to store it as a leftover if you’ve added the dressing. It doesn’t hold well and if you follow this recipe, you probably won’t have to worry about it. It’ll all be gone.