Caesar salad: Satisfying crunch and umami flavor
We’ve all heard the mantra about dark leafy greens and their health benefits. I am not going to dispute that, but sometimes I just want crunch.
Now that the romaine lettuce scare has blown over, it’s time for a Caesar salad.
Named for Caesar Cardini, a restauranteur in Tijuana, Mexico, Caesar salad is ubiquitous in restaurants. It’s popular for a reason. Unlike many fussy composed salads, Caesar salad has just a few ingredients: romaine lettuce, dressing and croutons. It comes together in minutes, so you will want to make it frequently.
Your first impulse might be to run to the grocery store and buy a bottle of Caesar salad dressing. I checked a bottle of Kraft dressing and counted about 40 ingredients. This is not going to produce a Caesar salad that tastes even remotely like what you get in a restaurant. It’s time to whip out your whisk and take a deep breath.
Ingredients matter: The ingredient that gives Caesar salad its rich umami taste is anchovies. Anchovies are packed in salt and oil, and they come in either a bottle or can. I prefer those in a bottle, as they are easier to store. A jar of anchovies will keep for months in the refrigerator.
Another even more shocking ingredient is a raw egg yolk. If this makes you squeamish, consider buying locally produced eggs or organic ones. Egg yolks are what give richness to the emulsion. Bottled dressings use chemicals to achieve the same effect.
Although you can buy a whole head of romaine to make the salad, a better choice is a bag of romaine hearts, as there will be less waste. Be sure to wash the cut leaves and use a salad spinner to dry them. Salad dressing will not adhere to wet leaves.
For the best Caesar salad ever, homemade croutons are the coup de grâce. Cube some leftover hearty bread and brown the cubes in olive oil. If you want to make a lot of croutons for later, toss them in olive oil and brown them in the oven on a baking sheet.
The recipe below will make a Caesar salad for two. If you wish, you can add some grilled chicken for a light warm-weather meal.
Caesar Salad for Two
1 romaine heart, washed and torn into rough pieces
2 cups croutons
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 anchovy filet
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
Parmesan cheese for shaving on top
Cut the bread into 3/4- inch cubes. Cover the bottom of a 12-inch frying pan with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the bread cubes and cook until browned, tossing frequently. Remove with a spatula and set aside.
In a small bowl, using the back of a spoon, mash the garlic and anchovy filet into a paste. Add the egg yolk, lemon juice and mustard, and mix well with a whisk. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Finally, add the tablespoon of Parmesan.
Toss the romaine and croutons with the dressing, and shave Parmesan on top before serving.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at email@example.com.