I grew up eating boring salads, horrible and underdressed. The old-school salads I learned to make at culinary school, like Waldorf and Niçoise and the mayo-and-curry-spiked Coronation Chicken, were better, for sure. But the Caesar was the first salad I ever really loved. Soon after I graduated, I got a job at a restaurant called Kensington Place. Rowley Leigh, the chef, would mound plain Gem lettuce on a plate and serve it with Caesar dressing on the side. Oh, that dressing! Not only was the flavor a tangy, umami-packed thrill, but it was also very “clean,” as we chefs sometimes say. That is, you could taste the individual components—first to register was the saltiness, not necessarily the fishiness, of the anchovies, then came the Parm and garlic, and finally, the tang of the vinegar.
Because of my early bland salad experiences, I like mine extra punchy, even, in this case, what some people might consider a little overdressed. Romaine is quite watery and it needs the dressing to cut through that flatness. This is a salad I like to make and eat with my hands. I rub the dressing onto each leaf, each one like a little canoe. I’m especially fond of the freshly-baked-bread taste of the croutons, which makes you want to seek out another, and then another, and the refreshing quality you get from serving the salad chilled. Eat it quickly, before it warms up. —A Girl and Her Pig
whole salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, soaked, and filleted
Put the anchovy fillets and garlic in a small food processor and pulse to a rough paste. Add the mustard and vinegar, crack the egg, and blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. With the processor on, gradually drizzle in the oil in a steady stream. Finally, add the Parmesan and blend until it's all well combined. Scrape the dressing into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, then pop it into the fridge to chill and thicken up. (It'll keep for up to 3 days).
Trim the root ends of the Romaine heads and discard the large, floppy outer leaves. Separate the remaining leaves and put them in a very large mixing bowl. Refrigerate the leaves until they are nice and cold.
Pour in about 1/2 cup of the dressing. I like to use my fingers to gently rub this dressing onto both sides of the leaves, so you get a little bit everywhere. Gradually add more dressing, just until it's all nicely coated. Be nimble and fast like a salad ninja, because you don't want your hands to warm up the lettuce and dressing.
Add the croutons and toss a few times so they get a touch of the dressing. Then add a little more dressing if you need to. (I usually end up using about half the dressing and saving the rest in the fridge for another day.)
Layer the leaves of the salad, so they face this way and that and so they're not all in a clump, on a platter and scatter the croutons here and there. Garnish with the anchovies. Grate some Parmesan on top, taste, and add a little salt, if you'd like. Eat it immediately -- preferably with your hands.