Caesar Salad Tableside, For Two
September 24, 2006
My father was a restaurateur and we spent every Sunday traveling up and down the East coast, sometimes driving 2 or 3 hundred miles to reach a restaurant of note and sample its offerings. One of my first memorable restaurant experiences occured when I was about 6 or 7 years old. We were first seated at a table that was too drafty for my father, then at a table by the fireplace that was too warm and finally we settled at a four top by the window with a view of the bay. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. The Maitre ‘d walked off in a huff while the most beautiful waitress I’d ever seen emerged from the kitchen. The light from the fireplace bounced off her voluminous, dark curls as she effortlessly glided up to the table, put her arm around my shoulder and asked if she might bring us an aperitif. I stared into her blue black eyes and with my deepest prepubescent voice said, “Sprite on the rocks, hold the cherry.” I received the usual laughs and she rubbed my head. I took this opportunity to lean into her bosom and inhaled her delicious scents of wildflower, citrus and olive oil. She hugged me tight – it worked everytime.
When I ordered my usual shrimp and crab cocktail, the Mediterranean beauty suggested I start with a Caesar Salad. I thought this a bold move to suggest a salad to a 7 year old, so I called her bluff. This brought more hugs and bosom so I was instantly happy with my decision. She came back wheeling a cart packed with bottles, bowls, ramekins and began crushing garlic, whipping olive oil into egg yolk. As I watched her weave the spell, I was mesmerized. She topped the pale green leaves with a few paper thin shavings of Parmiggiano, gave me a big kiss on the cheek – which I turned into with my lips just in time – and wheeled around, her locks trailing behind.
David, this was one of the most amazing plates of greens I’ve ever experienced. The hearts of romaine so crisp, the dressing velvety smooth and salty with the flavor of aged cheese and just a touch of something I later learned was anchovy. Since then, I’ve had a few good Caesar Salads, but most of the wilted humps of lettuce that people call Caesar are blasphemy! I’ve even heard rumor of Caesar Salad flavored potato chips.
Rule 1: Salad dressing does not come from a bottle or jar
There are rumors that Chef Caesar Cardini — the restaurateur who allegedly created this magnificent salad at his prohibition dodging Tijuana playground for Hollywood Stars — did eventually bottle his dressing after it was made famous by the Glitterati. I can find no hard evidence of this, but if it did occur, it might explain the atrocities found in just about every restaurant from New York to LA and back. In order to whip up this spell, you have to do it from scratch and if you have one of those little carts, start planning your inaugural ball.
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 anchovy filet, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon Worchestershire
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Small pinch of cayenne pepper or small piece of a seeded fresh red chile
Pinch of salt
Coddle the egg in simmering water for 1 minute. In your molcajete, crush the garlic with the anchovy filet and cayenne. Separate the egg yolk and place in a large bowl, preferably wooden. Add the mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire and crushed anchovy garlic mixture. Mix thoroughly and whisk in the olive oil. Add the salt and taste for acidic balance. Add more lemon juice for brightness if necessary. Go easy on the salt as the parmesan will add quite a bit of saltiness.
Preheat the oven to 250. Cut a stale baguette into cubes, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake for 20 – 30 minutes until crispy and golden. Remove from the oven and store in a warm place until you’re ready to whip up the dressing.
Remove the outer leaves of the head of romaine and set aside for a mixed green salad tomorrow. Wash, spin and dry the pale green hearts and tear them by hand into goodly sized chunks. There’s nothing more saltpeter than tiny pieces of lettuce.
Now that you’ve weilded the bottles in your cart like Tom Cruise in Cocktail, add the romaine and a handful of croutons to the bowl. Toss the whole affair with your long, wooden salad utensils and heap the glistening leaves on a large plate. Wield your cheese shaver and top with 2 or 3 paper thin slices of pamesan. I would suggest a glass of Ciro instead of Sprite on the rocks.
More history on the infamous Caesar Salad