Caesar Cardini makes a salad – always tableside and with a flourish
Of course I am still worried about the war in Iraq, over-zealous security measures in The Amerika, my right to carry a gun and terrorism, but today I am also worried about Caesar salad. You see, I love Caesar salad. I grew up on it. My mom has always made her own Caesar dressing, and my sisters and I used to continually ask for it. My mom’s is still the best Caesar salad I have ever had, even though she told me a long time ago that she does not make it exactly according to the original recipe. And today, Caesar salad was disparaged in the press.
A complimentary copy of a local business weekly arrives at my desk every Tuesday and today is Tuesday. So although last week’s issue was still on my desk and still in its envelope, I opened this week’s issue and turned, as you do, directly to the restaurant review. What I read there was shocking.
“…he barely touched the Caesar salad…as he said he could taste fish in the dish. The restaurant’s co-owner…said his Caesar salad dressing is made with anchovies, a variation on the original recipe.”
Sacrilege! How could the restaurateur call anchovies “a variation”? How could the reporter repeat his mistake? Everyone knows that a proper Caesar contains anchovies.
I considered writing an email to the editor, but why would I do that when I have my own blog? I decided to do some research, which was a good thing, because what I found surprised me. I was right that the original Caesar had anchovy in it, but what I hadn’t known was that the only anchovy in the original Caesar was contained in the Worcestershire sauce that was one of the ingredients.
In spite of all that, there are loads of recipes on the internet that purport to be “the original” or “very close to the original” – and most of them call for anchovies. So I realised that it was up to me to set the record straight.
The original Caesar salad was invented in 1924 by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant and chef who lived in San Diego and owned a hotel and restaurant over the border in Tijuana. There are a couple of popular myths about the circumstances behind the invention of the salad. One of them claims a July 4th rush that had depleted the kitchen, and the other claims a party of Hollywood stars suddenly descending on the hotel. But whatever the catalyst that led Cardini to create something out of nothing, the result was mouth-watering immortality.
On the question of anchovies, Wikipedia goes so far as to claim that Cardini “opposed” the addition of any anchovies beyond those already in the Worcestershire sauce.
Wikibooks Cookbook has Caesar Cardini’s original recipe as told by his daughter Rosa to Julia Childs and published in From Julia’s Kitchen:
On our television show I didn’t have time to do the croutons Caesar’s way, and you may want to follow Rosa’s directions for them: cut homemade type unsweetened white bread into half-inch dice and dry out in the oven, basting them as they brown with olive oil in which you have steeped fresh crushed garlic for several days.
Except for the croutons, the following recipe duplicates Rosa Cardini’s instructions for her father’s salad, as she repeated them to me.
- 2 large crisp heads romaine lettuce
- 2 large cloves garlic and a garlic press
- 3 cups best-quality olive oil
- 2 cups best-quality plain unseasoned toasted croutons
- 1 lemon
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup (1 ounce) genuine imported real Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- Peppercorns in a grinder
- Worcestershire sauce
The romaine. You want 6 to 8 whole unblemished leaves of romaine, between 3 and 7 inches long, per person. Strip the leaves carefully from the stalks, refrigerate rejects in a plastic bag and reserve for another salad. Wash your Caesar leaves gently, to keep them from breaking, shake dry, roll loosely in clean towels. Refrigerate until serving time.
The croutons. Purée the garlic into a small heavy bowl, and mash to a paste with a pestle or spoon, adding 1/4 teaspoon salt and dribbling in 3 tablespoons of the oil. Strain into a medium-sized frying pan and heat to just warm, add the croutons, toss for about a minute over moderate heat and turn into a nice serving bowl.
Other preliminaries. Shortly before serving, squeeze the lemon into a pitcher, boil the eggs exactly 1 minute, grate the cheese into another nice little bowl, and arrange all of these on a tray along with the rest of the olive oil, the croutons, pepper grinder, salt, and Worcestershire. Have large dinner plates chilled, arrange the romaine in the largest salad bowl you can find, and you are ready to go.
Mixing the salad. Prepare to use large rather slow and dramatic gestures for everything you do, as though you were Caesar himself. First pour 4 tablespoons of oil over the romaine and give the leaves 2 rolling tosses — hold salad fork in one hand, spoon in the other, and scoop under the leaves at each side of the bowl, bringing the implements around the edge to meet each other opposite you, then scoop them up toward you in a slow roll, bringing the salad leaves over upon themselves like a large wave breaking toward you; this is to prevent them from bruising as you season them. Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 8 grinds of pepper, 2 more spoonfuls of oil, and give another toss. Pour on the lemon juice, 6 drops of Worcestershire, and break in the eggs. Toss twice, sprinkle on the cheese. Toss once, then sprinkle on the croutons and give 2 final tosses.
Serving. Arrange the salad rapidly but stylishly leaf by leaf on each large plate, stems facing outward, and a sprinkling of croutons at the side. Guests may eat the salad with their fingers, in the approved and original Caesar manner, or may use knives and forks — which they will need anyway for the croutons.