I like a good Caesar salad, made the old-fashioned way, one ingredient at a time — preferably in a big wooden bowl, tableside.
To make a restaurant-quality Caesar at home, all you need is fresh lemon juice, fresh raw garlic, egg yolk (pasteurized, to be on the safe side), olive oil, anchovy paste (plus a whole anchovy or two per person), shaved Parmesan cheese, fresh ground peppercorns, crisp romaine lettuce and garlic croutons. Yum!
It’s hard to mess up a homemade Caesar salad unless you start cutting corners with the dressing and use something ready-made, out of a bottle from the grocery store.
Making and serving Caesar salad is a fun group activity. My children learned to put one together when they were young. For years, it was my husband’s and my contribution to the wonderful formal dinners we shared with good friends on New Year’s Eve. We took the ingredients, ready to add, arranged them in order, and our host mixed the salad at the table.
The only change to the classic that I’ve gotten excited about was the first grilled Caesar I ever had. It was served at a small neighborhood restaurant. It tasted like the original, but the leaves of the Romaine lettuce heart were left whole and attached and a short trip to the grill left marks on the outside leaves. Different presentation, same wonderful salad. It was a little warm on the outside, but still cold inside, dressing mixed and poured over, with Parmesan, ground fresh pepper, and a couple of anchovies fillets to top it off.
A Caesar salad as an appetizer is still a benchmark for me when we try a new restaurant. It’s a tried-and-true test! As much technique as ingredient list, here’s the classic Caesar salad.
CLASSIC CAESAR SALAD
2 bunches Romaine lettuce leaves
juice from half a large lemon
2 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
anchovies to taste
Rinse and dry lettuce. Remove any bad spots; chop leaves into large bite-size pieces. Refrigerate until ready to toss salad.
Cut a clove of garlic; rub around the inside of a large wooden bowl. Crush garlic; add to bowl. Add olive oil. Whisk to mix crushed garlic and oil; add egg yolk, lemon juice and anchovy paste and whisk to emulsify.
Add chopped lettuce; fold to coat lettuce with dressing. Add Parmesan and croutons to taste and toss so lettuce is evenly coated. Serve in individual salad bowls. Grind pepper over salad and add 2-3 anchovies on top if desired.
Serves four to five generously.
Linda Conway Eriksson can be reached at email@example.com.