If I am eating a salad as a main, it must be robust and fulfilling. The King of salads, in my humble opinion, has to be the caesar salad. A proper caesar salad is indispensable in the armamentarium of a home cook. It is an object of awe and disbelief to guests who never expected to be blown away by the starter course. Like many Western dishes with which I grew up being familiar, I learned through my own reading and cooking that a legitimate caesar salad is not what you get in most restaurants/pubs (avid readers are sensing a pattern right now in my blog posts—hi dad).
The key to proper caesar salad is in the dressing. Where it’s done right, restaurants will serve the dressing whisked table-side. Of the salad dressings out there, caesar takes the cake in being the most indulgent and full of pungent flavours. Golden yolks, garlic, sharp cheese, anchovies. That’s right—anchovies. As a wee beginner cook, I had no idea that anchovies were supposed to be in there.
The first time I made my own caesar salad at home was a pivotal moment in my culinary life as that is when I discovered anchovies. I went on to develop a strong anchovy phase, where I would make anything and everything with anchovies. The briny, salty, umami fish is rarely the star of the show but its absence would definitely be noticed. Like a humble warrior, its deeds are greater than its words. I owe my first homemade caesar salad to the recipe by Epicurious, which I have adapted to suit my own tastes over the years.
In order to get that *thicc*, glossy consistency, I use a hand-held immersion blender to whip up the dressing. I have whisked it by hand before I owned one of these, but it’s hard to get the dressing emulsified enough to get it to the right consistency. A regular blender or a small food processor are good alternatives, though more of a hassle to clean.
I use extra-virgin olive oil as the sole oil in my recipe as opposed to canola or vegetable oil in other recipes because I love olive oil and I don’t feel as bad eating heaping spoonfuls of the dressing in my salad.
A note on egg yolks: I’ve tried several methods of separating egg yolks. The easiest way, and the only way I’ll do it now, is to crack an egg into a clean bowl and use your hands to pick up the yolk. You may need to pass the yolk back and forth between your hands to remove the whites.
For the cheese in the dressing, I like to use a mix of grated Parmagiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano because it adds a layer of depth in flavour when compared to using just one cheese. I started out with using only parmesan but then one day, all I had was a 1:4 mix leftover from making carbonara. I’ve been using a 1:1 mix since, but feel free to play around with the ratios. Add more pecorino if you like that sharp saltiness. More parmesan if you want it milder. These hard cheeses keep well in the fridge for a while, so I always have both on hand. But the recipe will not suffer appreciably if only one cheese is used.
My favourite bites of the salad are the croutons. They can make or break the salad. You will need a crusty sourdough bread, preferably a day old and stale. If you have a fresh loaf, there is a trick to make the croutons as delicious as stale bread croutons! Bake the slices in oven at a low temperature (200°F) for 15-20 minutes, flipping halfway to dry them out first. Then, take them out, crank the heat up, and prepare as you would with stale bread (see recipe below).
I always buy my sourdough at my local bakery (Panchancho) and ask them to slice the loaf, so that I’m getting even thickness for even cooking. Then, I tear the slices apart with my hands for that rustic look with nooks-and-crannies to catch all the scrumptious dressing!
More tearing! Tear the lettuce, give it a good wash and dry. It’s important that the lettuce is well-dried after washing so that the dressing makes a nice and *thicc* coat around the lettuce, not watery. I use a salad spinner for this purpose. If you don’t have one, you can wash the lettuce, drain, then lay them out out on some clean tea towels or paper towels and dab/roll until dry. Then let the leaves air-dry while you prepare the rest.
Purists will disagree about adding extra stuff to this salad. I do agree with the minimalist approach if the salad accompanies a main course. However, I often like to it as a standalone meal, in which case I add some protein. My go-to are 8-minute boiled eggs and crumbled crispy bacon. It’s like eating breakfast as a salad. How could you say no?
Full Recipe: Caesar—The King of Salads
Serves 4 to 6
3 romaine hearts
A few slices day-old sourdough bread
Coarse sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 egg yolks
Juice of 1 lemon (~2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
8 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano + Pecorino Romano mix
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Shaved Parmagiano Reggiano
Freshly cracked black pepper
8-minute boiled eggs
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Tear the lettuce apart into a colander and wash thoroughly. Dry well using a salad spinner or with paper towels. Set aside.
- Make the croutons. Tear the day-old sourdough apart with your hands and lay out on a baking sheet. Drizzle some olive oil onto, a good pinch of salt, and crack some fresh black pepper. Gently massage everything together with your hands, making sure all the surfaces of the bread has made acquaintance with the olive oil. Spread over the baking sheet without crowding and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden brown.
- Now make the dressing. In an immersion blender cup (or blender/food processor), add all of the dressing ingredients except the olive oil. Go easy on the pinch of salt, as most of the seasoning will come from the anchovies and cheeses. Blitz it up until smooooth. Then, little by little, add the olive oil, blending in between. If whisking by hand, you will need to finely mince all solid ingredients first and then whisk in the oil slowly to emulsify.
- In a large bowl, add the romaine lettuce, croutons, and the dressing. Toss and massage everything together with your hands.
- Plate up and serve with some shaved Parmagiano Reggiano and freshly cracked pepper. Option to add a jammy boiled egg and a sprinkling of crispy bacon!