A lot has been said about Caesar.
Much less is known about the Caesar Salad.
.... So I went to find out more.
This is the story of a salad (and the man) behind it that conquered more mouths and stomachs on more far away lands than Julius Caesar ever did.
This is the story of a salad … that became a legend that became a myth that became my lunch.
Which other salad can make us laugh?
“The Canadian comedy duo Wayne and Shuster performed sketches based on the popular idea that Caesar salad was invented by or for Julius Caesar. In one variant, Caesar's chef (Shuster) prepares a modern Caesar salad, and says, "You shall name this salad, Caesar." After a pause, Caesar (Wayne) replies, "I name it... coleslaw." Brutus then offers his knife to the cook when the cook disparages the new name.” (Wikipedia)
Which other salad can make you end up in prison?
“When you outlaw Caesar salad, only outlaws will eat Caesar salad,” (Source: the Libertarian Party).
Which other salad had Julia Child (perhaps the most famous cookbook author) and her parents drive all the way from California to Mexico to see what was all the fuss was about? ( "From Julia Child's Kitchen," Random House, 1999)
Child writes that “It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast… . Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remember his every move, but I don't. The only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them."
What began as a gourmet salad of whole romaine lettuce leaves and was OK to eat with your fingers has now “developed” into many recipes and imitations (see: Family Oven).
The secret of a good Caesar Salad, like the Devil, lies in the details. Child notes that Caesar always insisted on using the finest quality Parmesan, fresh lemons, homemade croutons, Worcestershire sauce and of course the best of the best olive oil (Divine Tastes Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes here to mind :-)
If you are tempted to add anchovies to the salad as some recipes suggest be cautioned. Although Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies Mr Caesar Cardini would have objected to the idea of an added extra. John Mariani, author of The Dictionary of American Food and Drink, wrote that Caesar felt that the salad should be only subtly flavored.
Past and Present
I particularly like Child’s description of why the salad had such a late success.
“It was only in the early twenties that refrigerated transcontinental transportation came into being. Before then, when produce was out of season in the rest of the country, there was no greenery to be had… . Salads were considered rather exotic, definitely foreign, probably Bolshevist, and anyway, food for sissies.”
In 1948, the Cardini family trademarked the original recipe.
By the 1950s, tossing the leaves with the dressing at the table became a popular American restaurant custom.
With more than a dozen of bottled Cardini's dressing varieties available today it is safe to say “the rest is history”.
Original Recipe (?)
1/2 cup day-old bread, cubed
3/4 cup garlic oil, divided use
2 small heads romaine lettuce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 eggs, coddled (boiled in the shell for 1 minute)
Juice of 2 medium lemons
8-10 drops of Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese1. To prepare the garlic oil, place 4-5 cloves of garlic**, peeled and quartered, in a good quality (e.g. Divine Taste Extra Virgin) olive oil and let it stand at room temperature several hours or even up to 5 days.
2. To prepare croutons, pre-heat oven to 225 degrees. Toss bread cubes with 1/4 cup garlic oil and spread on a pan or baking sheet. Toss frequently and bake until golden brown, about 2 hours.
3. Wash, dry and crisp (in the refrigerator) the leaves of the romaine lettuce. Originally, Caesar left the lettuce leaves whole, and the salad was eaten with the fingers, but later he tore the outer leaves into 2-inch lengths, leaving only the small inner leaves whole, and the salad was eaten with a fork.
4. Place lettuce in a large bowl and toss with remaining 1/2 cup of garlic oil. Add salt and pepper, again tossing gently. Break the coddled eggs* over the lettuce, add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce and toss two or three times. Add croutons and cheese. Toss lightly once more.
Serves 4. (source: "Who cooked that up?)
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