Ah, the Caesar Salad. The workhorse of most restaurant salad stations.
People love Caesar Salad. It never seems to go out of style, ever since Caesar Cardini first invented it at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, back in the 1920s.
Every restaurant I have ever worked in (or eaten in, for that matter) has had it on the menu. And it’s always one of the top sellers.
Making a Caesar Salad can be as simple or as complicated as you like. You can find ready-to-serve Caesar Salad kits at most grocery stores that include the pre-cut Romaine lettuce, an envelope of dressing, croutons and parmesan. But these are expensive and, seriously, they lack creativity.
Instead, why not make your own homemade Caesar Salad, with freshly toasted croutons,
handmade dressing (it’s really simple), and freshly grated or shaved parmesan? Top it off
with some sliced grilled chicken breast or shrimp and you’ve got yourself a satisfying an delicious meal for your family. Plus you can make it for far, far less than you would pay at a restaurant.
The croutons and dressing, even the cut and cleaned lettuce, can be prepared a day or two ahead of time.
But before we begin, a few words on salads. Because most of the ingredients are raw, it is important that you select the best quality you can find. In cooked dishes, sub-par quality can often be masked, but not in salads.
I strongly recommend you make your own dressings. It is so easy and much less expensive than the lower-quality store-bought varieties. The trick is to use the best quality extra virgin olive oil that you can afford. The full, fruity flavor of a good quality EVOO can transform an ordinary salad into something magical.
Finally, make sure you wash all your greens thoroughly. Most commercial lettuces are
grown in soil that is mostly sand. You will want to ensure that there is no unpleasant grittiness to your salads. If you have one, use a salad spinner (I LOOOVE my salad spinner! If I weren’t already married, I’d marry my salad spinner).
If not, rinse your greens in cold water, let drain in a colander and pat dry with paper towels, being careful not to bruise the leaves. Make sure your greens are thoroughly drained. You don’t want a pool of water in the bottom of the bowl.
At Caesar’s Restaurant, making the signature salad was done tableside, a showcase that delighted diners and created lifelong memories. For a special experience, try assembling your salad for your family at the dinner table. It’s fun and gives you a chance to show off a little. For bonus points, chill your salad plates and forks by throwing them in the refrigerator about an hour before service.
There are four elements to the Caesar Salad – the romaine lettuce, the croutons, the dressing and the parmesan.
For the lettuce, use hearts of romaine if possible, the crisp, inner leaves of a head of romaine. These often sold separately, or you can buy a whole head of romaine and either discard the outer leaves or save them in a plastic bag for another time. Back in the day, Cardini would leave the leaves whole; it makes for a nice presentation. Otherwise, cut them into bite-sized pieces and set aside.
Crusty Homemade Croutons
2 cups French bread cut into ¾ inch cubes
3 TBS EVOO
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a mixing bowl, whisk the garlic into the oil. Add the bread cubes and toss. Season lightly with S&P. Lay out evenly on a sheet pan and toast in a 225F oven until crisp, about 25 minutes. Remove and let cool. These can be kept fresh in an airtight container for up to a week.
1 egg yolk
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cloves garlic, crushed
¾ cup EVOO
½ tsp Worcestershire
1 TBS grated parmesan
Coarse Sea Salt
Fresh shaved or grated parmesan
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Combine the lemon juice, garlic and egg yolks in food processor or mixing bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Slowly add the EVOO, starting with a drop a time then gradually adding more, until all is emulsified into the dressing. Finish by folding in the grated parmesan and season with salt. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to the flavors can meld together.
It’s Showtime: Assembling the Caesar Salad
In a large mixing bowl, add the romaine and ¾ of the croutons and toss. Slowly and dramatically drizzle the dressing over the lettuce and carefully toss with wooden fork and spoon. Add about half the parmesan and toss again. Make tall piles of the salad on the chilled salad plates. Top each with a few of the remaining croutons and finally spinkle the
remaining cheese over the top. Grind fresh pepper over each and distribute.
You’re a pro!
Make a meal out of your Caesar Salad by adding a grilled chicken breast or some grilled shrimp.