classic caesar saladPosted: August 12, 2011
Well, I am following up on my determination to make more interesting salads than usual. I had other ideas for things to post this week, but I ended up with a pasta sauce that wasn’t that great, and an ice cream that was downright disappointing. I have another ice cream recipe planned for the near future that should be much better, and a recipe for one of my very favorite meals for the next post, but in the meantime here we are with another salad recipe.
I’ve had bottled Caesar salad dressing before, and plenty of Caesar salads at certain “Italian” chain restaurants, but I’m not sure I’d ever had a super authentic version. When I bit into my first piece of dressing-coated lettuce, though, I knew that this stuff was the real deal – all the watered down Caesars I’d had before pointed in this direction, but here the flavors are much louder and punchier. My first thought on tasting was “Whoa, anchovies,” but it soon became quite addicting, and, for once, salad was the most looked forward to part of my meals for the next few days as I finished off the dressing.
Making the dressing was a bit of a time-consuming production, but I imagine that once I’ve made it a few more times (and I definitely will), all the steps will seem more intuitive and move along at a speedier pace. The anchovies are very important here, and if you think you don’t like them, you should still give this a try. From a bit of reading around, I learned that pre-made anchovy paste generally has a harsh, fishy flavor, whereas making the paste yourself (what you’ll do in this recipe) gives you a much fuller, more complex, and not at all fishy flavor. So it is well worth it not to take shortcuts.
I often forget that I have a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated, and I looked at quite a few recipes elsewhere online that didn’t quite seem what I wanted before remembering that I am paying for this subscription and ought to make use of it. They had the brilliant suggestion of turning garlic into paste using a small microplane grater. I had never thought of this before, for some reason, but now all my textural issues with crunchy garlic are solved forever. My only real adaptation here was to change the kind of oil recommended – they thought you should use 5 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil and 5 tablespoons of canola oil, so the olive oil flavor wouldn’t overpower the dressing. I think it would be hard to overpower the loud flavors of garlic, anchovies, and parmiggiano, plus measuring in that way seemed fussy, plus I don’t keep canola oil lying around, so I just changed it all to virgin olive oil. A final word on the anchovies: if you buy oil-packed anchovies, they will be ready to eat. Salt-packed anchovies, on the other hand, have to be de-boned and filleted. Many people claim that salt-packed taste better but, well, I’m not an anchovy connoisseur, and I am a bit lazy about certain things (like deboning tiny fish). Even oil-packed anchovies will still have some very little bones, though, but apparently you don’t need to worry about them, as the bones will dissolve once you’ve mashed the anchovies and added them to the liquid ingredients. I was simultaneously alarmed by the bones and by the prospect of having to get them all out, so I trusted my internet sources and just left them in, and sure enough, I did not notice anything remotely bone-like in my salad.
Makes 4-6 servings of salad
For the croutons:
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, grated into a paste (see note above)
1/2-3/4 of a loaf of ciabatta or other good quality bread, chopped into 3/4 inch cubes (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese
For the dressing:
1 large garlic clove, grated into paste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 head romaine lettuce, or 2-3 romaine hearts
To make the croutons, combine 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and the garlic paste in a small bowl, and set aside. Put the bread cubes into a large bowl, and sprinkle with the water and salt. Toss the bread cubes, squeezing them gently to be sure they are soaking up the water. This step ensures that your croutons will be crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, rather than tooth-breakingly crunchy all the way through.
In a large skillet, heat the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the bread cubes and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden brown and crispy. Remove the skillet from heat, and clear a space in the center of the pan. Pour in the olive oil/garlic paste mixture, and stir for about 10 seconds to cook with the residual heat from the pan. Add the 2 tablespoons of parmesan, and toss until garlic and cheese are evenly incorporated. Place croutons in a bowl, and set aside.
For the dressing, whisk the garlic paste and lemon juice in a large bowl, and set aside for 10 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. This helps to tone down the bite of the garlic. In the meantime, mince the anchovies as finely as you can, and then mash them with a fork, until you have a smooth paste (you may still notice some tiny bones, but there should not be any chunks of anchovy remaining).
Whisk the anchovies, egg yolks, and Worcestershire sauce into the garlic/lemon mixture. Slowly drizzle in the 1/3 cup of olive oil, continuing to whisk constantly – this will help the mixture to emulsify properly. Add the 1/2 cup of parmesan and pepper to taste, and whisk to incorporate.
Wash and dry the romaine, then tear or cut into small pieces. Add it to the bowl with the dressing, and toss to coat. Add the croutons, and mix gently to distribute them evenly. Serve immediately, with a bowl of extra parmesan for people to add as they like.
If you are making this for a smaller number of people and end up with extra croutons and dressing, not to worry, they can be stored for a few days. The croutons will keep for about 3 days if stored in an airtight container (though they are best when fresh!). The dressing will also keep for 3 days, stored in the refrigerator.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated