Big Little Recipes

This Steak Caesar Has 5 Ingredients (Yep, Including the Dressing)

May 28, 2019

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst—we don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making a steak salad where the marinade and dressing just so happen to be the same thing.

Though these days it’s an old-school staple—on menus everywhere from Nancy Silverton’s Osteria Mozza to Macaroni Grill—Caesar salad is barely older than my grandmother, who, my family assures her, is still only 89 years young.

Like many food inventions, this one was supposedly a matter of necessity. In 1924, Caesar Cardini, an Italian chef who owned a popular-with-tourists restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico was short on ingredients. So he threw together a little of this and a little of that and—ta da!—Caesar salad was born.

The irony is: Caesar dressing isn’t the sort of dressing you make when you’re short on ingredients. Compared to most vinaigrettes—like this maple-Dijon one, this horseradish one, and this red wine one—Caesar is pretty long-winded.

Of course, the specifics change from recipe to recipe. But the usual suspects are: anchovies, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, Parmesan, Dijon mustard, egg yolk (or coddled egg or even mayo), and, if you’re my mother, capers.

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Top Comment:
“I love that you're leaning into the anchovies here—a whole can! They're truly the best part of a Caesar, in my book.”
— Eric K.

The thing is, you don’t need all, or even most, of those ingredients to make a dressing taste like Caesar. While sources like The New Food Lover’s Companion summarize Caesar as a “garlic vinaigrette dressing,” if you ask me, garlic isn’t the make-or-break ingredient. It’s anchovies. And a lot of them.

Which brings me to Worcestershire sauce, whose first two ingredients are vinegar and anchovies. If we’re keeping lemon juice—and, yes, we’re for sure keeping lemon juice—and we already have anchovies, why do we “need” Worcestershire? We don’t.

Spicy Dijon is equally repetitive since we’re adding plenty of freshly ground black pepper, an honorary Big Little ingredient. And even though eggs’ thickening powers seem unique, it turns out that if you blend a bunch of ground-up Parmesan into an otherwise thin vinaigrette, it becomes thick, almost like mayonnaise.

See how lean the flank steak is? That's why it wants—nay, needs!—a marinade. Photo by Bobbi Lin

So we’ve got anchovies, lemon, and Parm (plus pantry staples, olive oil and black pepper). If you buzz these few ingredients together in a food processor, you get something that’s utterly Caesar-like. (Even though we ditched multiple ingredients and unsubtly avoided emulsifying egg yolks.)

It’s a dressing so good, we might as well use it twice.

Most restaurant menus include the option to add something to Caesar—say, grilled chicken or steak or salmon. Because on its own, Caesar salad is a great appetizer or side, but a hearty protein turns it into a full-grown meal.

Such is the case here, thanks to flank steak. This flavorful, lean cut gets a bad rap for being tough. But all you need is a marinade to make it even more flavorful and tender. A marinade like, say, fake-Caesar dressing. While the lemon juice acts as a tenderizer, the salty anchovies and Parmesan season the meat throughout.

Call it a Big Little update on an old-school dish. Or a 95-years-young dish. That’s better.

Editor's note: Aurora Packing Company, Inc. recently recalled certain beef products due to possible contamination. While flank steak wasn't part of the recall, if you're thinking about substituting another cut in this recipe, you can learn more here.

How do you make Caesar salad at home? Tell us all about it in the comments.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • marmar
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    Scott Lindsey
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
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    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


marmar May 28, 2019
Would it be possible for F00d52, as a company that seems to want to be a responsible citizen, to reconsider the practice of using plastic bags to marinade food? Surely folks are able to marinate in a dish? We're drowning in plastic and given your reach and platform, it's a shame to keep using plastic for something so inconsequential but so awful for the environment.
Emma L. May 29, 2019
Hi Marmar! That's a great point—thanks for bringing it up. I usually marinate meat in plastic bags out of habit, but it's a habit I should break. I just added an alternative to plastic bags in the recipe instructions.
Scott L. May 28, 2019
Looks delish!
Eric K. May 28, 2019
I love that you're leaning into the anchovies here—a whole can! They're truly the best part of a Caesar, in my book.