Caesar Salad, with or without Anchovies
Named for Caesar and by Caesar at a place run by Caesar, the
assertive Caesar Salad, composed of romaine lettuce and herbed croutons tossed
with a rich anchovy aioli and sprinkled with shredded Parmesan, is a particular
favorite in my family. But this classic is hardly from Ancient Rome. It was
developed in the mid-1920s in … (wait for it) … Mexico.
Julius Caesar, the conquering Roman general who fought the
Gallic Wars, subdued the Celtic Gauls, invaded Britain, and built a bridge over
the Rhine River, subsequently returned to Rome and overthrew the Republic. He established
what became the Roman Empire, with himself as “Dictator.” The title “Caesar” was
assumed for centuries by the emperors who succeeded Caesar. By extension the
name indicated the leadership of the Empire itself. (The Synoptic Gospels
attribute to Jesus the skillfully pragmatic injunction, “Render unto Caesar the
things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”)
Long after the fall of Rome, the term “Caesar,” its spelling
suitably transcribed, continued as a title of imperial leaders, from the “Kaisers”
of Prussia to the “Tsars” of Russia. “Caesar” also became a popular, if
aspirational, boy’s name, especially in Italy and Spain. And therein lies the connection
between Julius Caesar and the conquering, classical salad that bears his name.
Chef and restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant
to Southern California, who clearly liked his name, created the hearty salad at
his restaurant, Hotel Caesar in Tijuana, Mexico, and named the dish after
himself. A few minutes’ drive across the Mexican border from San Diego, Caesar’s
place in Tijuana was particularly popular with Californians in the 1920s, since
there they could dodge the rigors of Prohibition. Caesar Salad became
established first in Southern California, then in the country as a whole.
The salad has been through some modifications, and the dressing
is generally no longer made fresh by hand aside the customer’s table. But the dressing’s
common features still include mashed anchovy, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice,
Dijon mustard and egg yolk. The salad ingredients are romaine lettuce, shavings
of Parmigiano cheese, and toasted croutons.
Here is my version of Caesar Salad, with a simplified dressing
that uses the egg already incorporated in mayonnaise rather than raw, or
coddled, egg yolk.
The recipe serves six to eight, but extra dressing keeps for
a few days refrigerated (and can also be used as a dip). Make the dressing before
making the salad.
1 cup “real” mayonnaise (such as Duke’s or Hellmann’s)
2 teaspoons anchovy paste (use an extra teaspoon if desired,
but reduce the salt in the recipe)
1 medium-large clove garlic, put through a press or
extremely finely minced
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt (1/8 teaspoon if using the third teaspoon
of anchovy paste)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients except olive oil in a medium-sized
bowl. Whisk everything together. While continuing to whisk, slowly drizzle in
the olive oil until all is incorporated. Taste (the garlic will seem peppery
for a few minutes) and add salt and/or lemon juice if needed.
2 medium heads romaine lettuce
1/8 pound of solid Parmigiano/Parmesan cheese
1 cup seasoned croutons
Cut lettuce into roughly 1-1/2 inch squares, rinse them in a
colander then shake to drain. Transfer to a large salad bowl. Using a vegetable
peeler, shave thin strips of cheese into the bowl.
Shortly before serving, toss lettuce and cheese shavings
with sufficient dressing to moisten them well. Sprinkle with croutons and mix
very briefly. Restaurants sometimes offer a few fresh grinds of black pepper as