Caesar Salad

Of course we have to credit Chef and Restaurateur Caesar Cardini for this one.  Chef Cardini opened his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico in the 1920’s when Tijuana was a hot destination for the Hollywood movie and art crowd.  He was originally a restaurant owner in California and this was an expansion of his business to avoid Prohibition and to capitalize on a popular destination.  Later, he produced a line of dressings that can still be found on supermarket shelves.  This recipe was given to me by an old friend named Quito and I’ve used it for years.  Many Caesar Salad makers have their own personal takes on the salad and here is what I do:

First, you have to make really good croutons!  Your guests will love you for them.  You can even tease them with a small bowl of them with cocktails.

Here are the ingredients to make croutons from a full-size baguette:

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons salted butter

3 garlic cloves, minced or through press

1 tablespoon dried basil flakes

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.

Taking a nice long baguette, such as the one shown here, sliced into four sections for

easier handling.  Note:  Always keep your eyes on the work when slicing and make sure

you develop a style to keep your fingers away from the blade.

Baguette Slicing for Caesar Salad Croutons

Slice length-wise in half

Slice the baguette sections in half, lengthwise, then make longitudinal cuts, minimum 2 cuts.  Most croutons are best savored if they are medium-sized, about 3/8″ cubes or so.

Then make the final crouton cuts at 90 degrees to the longitudinal cuts for get your individual croutons.

Longitudinal Slices

 

 

Final Crouton Cuts

Put all your croutons in a mixing bowl.

All your croutons in one bowl

In a sauce pan, over low heat, melt the butter in the olive oil, add the garlic and basil flakes, stirring until combined nicely.

Combined Oil, Garlic, Butter and Dried Basil Flakes

Then pour mixture over croutons a little at a time, tossing crazily so that everyone gets their fair share, until entire mixture has been added.  Continue to toss crazily.

Adding Mixture to Croutons

Tossing Croutons Crazily Yet Democratically

Prepare a cookie sheet  (I line mine with aluminum foil) and transfer the anointed croutons from the bowl to the cookie sheet making sure they are not lumped together too much, enabling uniform baking.

Croutons Ready for Oven

Now they can go into that 325 degree F. oven.  They will need at least 20 minutes but check on them periodically in case the oven is not temperature-accurate…and, ovens, you know who you are.

While the croutons are happily cooking away and the house starts to smell REAL good, I usually make the salad dressing.   I’ll tell you how to do that in a minute but first I’ll jump ahead to bringing the croutons out of the oven, and how they should look.

They should start looking golden brown.  Reach in and grab one and taste it when it cools off.  It should be crunchy.  It they are golden brown and crunchy, they are done.  Take ’em out.  I store the extra croutons in a plastic bag inside a plastic food container.

Golden Brown and Crunchy Croutons

Now lettuce make the dressing!  Note:  THIS RECIPE IS FOR A LARGE AMOUNT OF DRESSING, intended for a large group or for several Caesar Salads over a week period or so.  I will discuss storage after we make the dressing…

To start with, let’s list the dressing ingredients:

1-1/4 cups extra virgin olive oil

1 can of anchovy filets or 1-1.75 ounce tube of anchovy paste

3 cloves garlic, finely minced or through a press

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1-1/2 tablespoons Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Juice of 1/2 lemon

3 tablespoons finely grated, aged Reggiano parmesan cheese

No egg in this recipe.

First, in a nice-sized mixing bowl, combine the anchovy and the garlic in 1/4 cup of the extra virgin olive oil until you get a nice even mixture.  I tend to use a fork for this combining operation.  It should sort of look for like this.  Not pretty but nicely combined.

Combining The Anchovy, Garlic with 1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Next, add the Dijon, Worcestershire sauce, white vinegar, black pepper and lemon juice and combine with the anchovy, garlic and oil mixture already in the bowl. I start using a whisk here as I find it works better.  After very thoroughly mixing these ingredients together, start slowly whisking in the cup of extra virgin olive oil and whisk away until all the oil is added, then start to whisk in the finely grated Reggiano parmesan and whisk more, really working to combine that cheese into a nice marriage with the rest of the family.  It should look like this:

Caesar At The Finish

Now, here we are with large quantity of dressing.  What do we do?  I use an array of jars from preserves, artichoke hearts, etc., etc.  Jars about 8-12 ounces in capacity. They should be glass and have a good sealing, screw-on cap.  If you are bringing a Caesar to your friends’ for dinner, these little jars are great (and you still can have some for yourself at home).

Carefully pour (funnels work here) the dressing into one or more of these storage jars and stir/whisk the dressing while you are pouring (you can do this) so that the ingredients of the dressing go into the jar proportionately.  In other words, when you go back to the jars, you don’t want it to be all oil and/or all anchovy.  Store these jars in the refrigerator.  I usually feel safe about the dressing jars, when properly refrigerated, for at least 8 days.  Take a jar of dressing out of the refrigerator at least an hour before serving and be sure to stir all the ingredients in the jar uniformly before putting on the salad.

Nice!  We’re about ready to put it all together for your guests.

Wash and spin (get a spinner if you don’t have one yet) fresh, crisp Romaine lettuce leaves until dry.   I figure one head for every two people. If the salad is the main course, one head per person is what I use.  Remember the croutons will add bulk to the salad.

Break Romaine leaves into a large salad bowl. I try use a bowl that prevents salad and croutons from flying out while I toss.  Add croutons to your personal feeling about croutons per square inch, but remember that you can always add croutons to the salad.

Now, making sure that your dressing is stirred to make it uniform, start with about 1/4 cup  of dressing over the lettuce and croutons and toss thoroughly.  You’ll be surprised by the coverage with your tossing.  You can always add more, or even have a little mini-pitcher at the table in case a guest needs more.  No drinking directly from the pitcher, however.

So we’re tossing, we’re tossing and, finally, add some coarsely shaved Reggiano parmesan over the top and, right, toss some more, just enough to get that cheese married (there’s that word again) to the salad and TA DA!  Bon appetite!

Caesar Is Served

Special thanks to Chef Cardini, Quito and to La Muse, Lucinda, for the photography.

Also special thanks to the kitchen of Bino and Marty.

 

 

 

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