I think everybody by now knows the origin of the first Caesar salad. It’s just one of the coolest, old school things ever whipped up out of a pantry in Mexico to satisfy some jaded, drunken celebrities in the wee, wee hours. And I don’t mean that in the scatological sense.
We now live in an era of wimped out caesars; anchovy denial, Egg Beaters, yolkless, and jokeless salads without any soul. I hate that. The purist in me wants to go back to the original. The Decontructionist in me wishes to take it apart and put it back together, leaving everything almost intact but not quite. I’m not afraid of eggs. In the following instructions from the 1960’s you are advised to “coddle” the eggs, for me that translates into a bain marie. This seems like a lot of work for a damn salad doesn’t it? A recent New Yorker cartoon describes salad as “a dressing delivery vehicle” so I guess it’s worth it. Floating radical that we are, we use one single crouton (it’s a French thing) per salad plate instead of cubed ones.
Of course anything with raw lettuce and almost raw eggs comes with risks. Get in touch with your inner Bourdain (hey, he’s a really nice guy by the way). If you are not going to do it right, well, don’t bother. - pierino
Test Kitchen Notes
Every layer of Pierino's composed Caesar yields delightful surprise and contentment. From the top, the first taste of the white anchovies may very well qualify as one of those special, life-altering experiences; the texture and flavor are so unexpectedly fresh, tender, delicate, and clean that they manage to have the lovely effect of mentally transporting you and your salad to a warm and breezy seaside cafe. The dressing is rich, luscious, and suitably clingy, with a nice light tang of lemon, and soft undertone of basil. From beneath the greens, the heady nose of garlic from the freshly-rubbed warm croutons invites you dive in as soon as the salad is placed before you. - Jennifer Ann —The Editors
whole hearts of romaine
or 3 good, flat anchovies from a jar (oil that is)
egg yolks (toss the whites out, you are not going to need albumen anytime soon, are you?)
leaves fresh basil (untraditional ingredient)
Coleman’s superfine powdered mustard
finely ground pepper
Squirt of lemon juice
Drizzle(s) of olive oil
Sliced, day old French bread for crouton (singular)
Take the romaine hearts and cross cut them into strips and spin them dry and hold
Rinse the flat anchovies in cold water and set aside to be chopped, quickly
Separate the eggs and “coddle” the yolks, as in, place them in ramekins in a bain marie and cook in a hot oven for no longer than 1 minute. Don’t forget to turn the oven off.
Bowl-a-rama. Whisk together egg yolks, dry mustard, basil, pepper, salt and anchovies, lemon juice and olive oil to emulsify and then toss the salad greens with the dressing
Meanwhile (your enemy is “meanwhile”), slice a demi-baguette into slices about ¾” thick, cut on the bias. This will be your crouton. In a ridged grill pan toast the bread slices. If you don’t have a grill pan figure something else out.
Cut the garlic into halves and rub the bread/crouton vigorously, as with fervor
Place one crouton on each plate and top with salad greens. Grate or shave parm over each portion, whichever looks better to you in a dark and crowded bar. Using kitchen scissors quickly snip the boquereones into small pieces to top off the salad. Voila! And if you are in Mexico you’ve already lost your car keys.
Note to cooks: while it might be hard to believe now, in the olden days (like 1960) they used to mix salads in wooden bowls. Some of the Caesar recipes I’ve looked at were explicit in that direction. Of course that was before God invented Pyrex. In those days people weren’t so afraid of salad borne microbes. But then, they didn’t have to be. Somehow the combination of salad green and e-coli hadn’t yet become an issue worth thinking about, let alone salmonella in chickens and eggs.
Additional note to cooks: with our oceans getting fished out and BP destroying what's left pretty soon the only seafood that can survive sustainably will be anchovy and squid. So it's good to know how to prepare a Caesar salad or a fritto misto. This is not a joke. The lives of millions of people on the Gulf Coast have been changed in the worst way for perhaps half of a century to come.
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.