After all the calorie excess of the holidays, it’s nice to get back to our regular eating. More soups. More salads. Less baked goods and sugar. Caesar salad is substantial enough that a large dish became dinner the other night. Sooner or later, probably sooner, I’ll return to baking (David Lebovitz’ Bostock sure looks tempting), but for now I need to get the waistine of my jeans fitting comfortably again.
Many think of Caesar salad as an American invention. It could be called an Italian-Mexican-American invention. Alex Cardini Sr. and his brother Caesar Cardini immigrated from Italy to the U.S, where Caesar opened restaurants, and eventually was joined by Alex at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. Caesar created his salad dressing, and Alex added romaine lettuce, croutons, and garlic. At one point, it was called Aviator’s Salad to honor American military pilots. Depending on different accounts, Caesar salad, may or may not have included anchovies and Dijon mustard.
My version does not include Dijon mustard, as I’m more or less hewing to Diana Kennedy’s recipe in her book, Mexican Regional Cooking. She is one of the few people who can say this salad was prepared for her tableside by Alex Sr., so I am willing to wager her recipe is as close as can be to the original. My version comes very close to hers, but I’m using anchovy paste instead of anchovy fillets, and queso cotija, a dry, salty Mexican cheese, instead of Parmesan cheese, as both are not to be found in Mascota. I hope you have Parmesan and anchovy fillets, but if not, adopt the covid quarantine practice of using what you have on hand. Substitution is the mother of invention, or at least one of the mothers.
Caesar Salad Serves 4
- 2 cups 1/2″ bread cubes (see note below)
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 6 anchovy fillets or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice
- 1/4 cup (3/4 oz/21 g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or 3 tablespoons crumbled queso cotija
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg
- 1 clove garlic (see note below)
- salt and ground pepper to taste
- 12 ounces (340 g) torn romaine lettuce leaves, washed and crisped in refrigerator
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a hot skillet, toss in bread cubes, and toast over medium heat, tossing every few minutes, until the exterior is crunchy but the cubes are still slightly soft inside. This will take 5 to 15 minutes, depending on how moist the bread is.
- Make dressing by whisking 2 tablespoons olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, minced anchovy fillets (or anchovy paste), and Worcestershire sauce.
- Coddle egg by immersing in boiling water for 1 minutes. Break egg into dressing and whisk.
- Toss dressing with romaine lettuce, croutons and half of cheese. Top with remaining cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Divide among 4 plates and serve.
- French bread is traditional for Caesar Salad croutons, but being the nontraditionalist that I am, I used Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead bread, half white, half wheat. It made supurb croutons.
- Croutons are usually toasted in the oven. Save time and fuel by toasting on the stovetop.
- Recipes vary consideraly on the amount of garlic called for. I found one clove was enough. Two cloves, and we were exhaling garlic fumes. But Caesar salad is known for being garlic-heavy, so use more if you have no plans to socialize, and who is these days?
- You are the best judge as to whether or not you want to use a raw egg in the dressing. An egg coddled for one minute is as good as raw, but it sure makes a rich dressing.
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