Road Foodie

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Let Caesar Be Caesar

Posted By on May 13, 2010

No question. The egg comes first.

Friends, Romaines, Countrymen: lend me your mouths.
We come to eat Caesar not to bury it.
And Caesar is an honorable salad.

Let us stop and consider the rich history—the provenance, if you will—of that crispy-creamy-salty tumble of leaves that is so beloved of restaurant-goers of all ages: the Caesar.

On second thought, let’s forget the when-where-who of it, because when you have such a piece of perfection, who cares? But therein lies the rub: Not all Caesar salads are created equal. Thus, today we are going to deconstruct this venerable bowl of greens and put it back together again better than ever.

Recipe: Best-Ever Caesar Salad

Romaine is the canvas for your dressing. It must be impeccably crisp.

First, there is the dressing. You will be making this yourself, of course. If you wish to use a bottled dressing, please browse immediately elsewhere, delete your Roadfoodie bookmark—and your culinary credibility. Forever.

I prefer to make my dressing in a mini-prep food processor, but you can also use a standard food processor, or a bowl and a small wire whisk. (I find that a blender runs too fast and imparts a metallic taste to the concoction.) Break a nice fresh farm egg and deposit only the yolk in the bowl (save the egg white in a container in the freezer for a future soufflé). Now use your garlic press to squeeze in the essence of 2 or 3 cloves of fresh (ie non-sprouted) garlic, adjusting the quantity to your personal taste. Add ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, a seriously generous grinding of fresh black pepper (Tellicherry or Malabar peppercorns are the best), a scant tablespoon of Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon each of Worcestershire sauce and red wine vinegar, and 1/3 cup good olive oil (don’t use your best oil here, it will be overwhelmed by all the strong flavors). Now, the anchovies: Gently rinse in warm water 2 or 3 anchovies from a glass jar—or, if it’s all that’s available, a little tin—and dry for a moment on a paper towel. Add them to the bowl of ingredients and pulse or whisk until the mixture is smooth. Omit the anchovies at your own risk: Your salad will be less than a Caesar, like a drop-dead gorgeous man or woman wearing a double-knit suit; heirloom tomatoes on a summer evening with no basil; Gordon Ramsay without his temper.

If you will not be using your dressing right away, cover it (scrape into a small glass jar; the dressing will stay good for two days, refrigerated). This makes enough for about six stripped-down hearts of Romaine—ie six people—and may be doubled.

We are well traveled. It is not a crouton, it is a croute.

Croutons: Since cubes are so last-century, you will have to make your own, but it’s easy! Get yourself a long slim loaf of Italian or French bread (baguette) and cut, with a serrated knife, on a sharp angle into ¼-inch slices (allow two to three slices per person). Place on a large rimmed baking sheet and preheat your oven to 350°. Now either brush or spray both sides of each slice with extra-virgin olive oil and season sparingly with fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then check the color (do not leave the house during this operation, or the bread will instantly burn). The slices should be only just beginning to show a hint of toasty color. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, rub one side of the croutons with the cut side of half a garlic clove. (If you like, you can cool and store these croutons in an airtight plastic container for a day or two, at room temperature.)

See how easy this is?

Your local supermarket carries the hearts of romaine, which make this salad easier to execute than it used to be, but there is still going to be a fair amount of wastage. (We’re going to assume the naughty romaine has been culled by now, and not hold it against this estimable, legendary lettuce.) This is because, for a really impeccable salad, you must use only the pale green, inner leaves. Thus, I always allow one romaine heart per person. Put the outer dark green, bruised, and floppy leaves on your compost heap, then immerse the superior, chosen leaves in a sink or large-bowlful of the coldest water your faucet will supply. Give a swish and let it stay there, basking in the coolness, for about ten minutes. Dry thoroughly in a salad spinner or very, very gently with clean kitchen towels. Wrap loosely in the towels and return to the refrigerator for ten to thirty minutes, while you grate the cheese and fiddle with something else in the kitchen. Or walk the poor, patiently-waiting dog. Chill your plates and, yes, and forks in the fridge. Overkill? Hardly.
On the fine holes of a grater, grate about one quarter cup of imported Parmigiano-Reggianno per person, or any other imported Parmesan or Asiago (sometimes labeled as Grana Padana).

I have made the Best-Ever Caesar, I have eaten it, and it is good. It is very, very good.

Now you are ready to assemble. Warning: You will need a Very Large Bowl. If you don’t have one (yet), use a really clean basin or large Tupperware: You need room to move.

First, wash your hands, with soap, and rinse them well. Now add the super-crisp romaine leaves to the bowl. If they are large, use a very sharp knife to cut them crosswise into thirds. If they are less than 4 inches long, leave them whole. (Do NOT bunch, squeeze, and then tear, as some men from my past (operative word) have been known to do. This horribly bruises the leaves, and me.) Drizzle the leaves with most of the dressing and toss gently with your hands, tossing until all surfaces of the lettuce are lightly and evenly coated. Add more dressing as you see fit, but don’t drown it. Scatter with about two thirds of the grated cheese, and toss again. Place a jumble of perfect Caesar on each chilled plate and top with a bit more cheese and two or three of the hip croutons. Wash your hands and proceed immediately to the finish line. Caesar—just like souffle—waits for no man.

Beware: Once you have made this salad for friends and family, they will want it over and over and over again. But you will become as an Emperor to them—a Caesar, perhaps.


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