All Hail Caesar! King of Salads!

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Caesar and I go WAY back.

Actually, we were first introduced to each other in a small, Italian restaurant in Livonia when I was a young, aspiring cook in the late 60s.

I must admit, Caesar took a little while to get used to. And that anchovy thing? Well, that was another hurdle.

But the friendship grew as over and over, Caesar kept reappearing in every cooking school or restaurant at which I ate or worked. Over time, I learned a LOT about Caesar, and I began to appreciate just how special and just how wonderfully delicious this classic SALAD really is.

Among my greatest Caesar teachers were two gentlemen who made this iconic salad better than anyone I’ve ever known.

Ironically, neither was a chef. One was a waiter (later to become a restaurateur) and one was a Maitre D. Their names were Monsieur Joseph, who reigned at the Michigan Inn’s Benchmark Restaurant (long since gone), and Manuel Chavez, whose Caesar I first tasted at the London Chop House in the early 70s and then later at Restaurant d’ Modesda in Southfield.

You may think it’s odd that the two best Caesar salads I’ve ever eaten were taught to me not by chefs but instead by the originator of the Caesar himself (Cesare Cardini), who was primarily a “front of the house” man and restaurateur. You might also find it surprising that in those days, Caesar salad was more often than not prepared tableside in the better restaurants, so the idea that a waiter or Maitre D could make one very well made sense.

Nowadays, you rarely see this magnificent salad prepared tableside. It’s not only a lost art but it’s also time consuming. So many people have gotten used to a commercially bottled one that many wouldn’t appreciate the real thing if they tasted it.

Having said that, in my mind, the best commercially bottled Caesar salad dressing on the market is Caesar’s own Cardini’s Caesar Dressing®, which Caesar left the restaurant business (in the late 40s) to trademark and distribute. (And PS–We sell it at Nino Salvaggio’s).

So what makes a GREAT Caesar? Not surprisingly, it’s great ingredients. Fresh ingredients. BIG flavors. But there ARE a couple of “secrets.”

First of all, a GREAT Caesar dressing has a spicy, slightly hot kick that comes from smooth, hot Pomeroy or Dijon mustard. The olive oil should be high quality and extra-virgin, and the cheese should be freshly (and I really mean freshly) grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese. And buy a high-quality anchovy packed in olive oil too.

Needless to say, the rest of the ingredients, from garlic to lemon juice, HAVE to be mashed and fresh squeezed.

Nothing from a jar or bottle–well, except the Tabasco.

The lettuce? Only fresh, torn Romaine, both green and hearts will do. NO limp outer leaves. It should be triple washed, spun and ice-cold crisp!

Don’t overlook croutons either. The BEST are made from Italian bread and are rather large; about ¾” x ¾” is just about perfect. Tossed in garlic, salt, pepper and clarified butter and then baked until golden brown, croutons are an undeniable crowning essential to making Caesar a star.

The final two things that finish a Caesar give it an additional kick. They are shaved FRESH Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper (medium coarse, not too fine), right from the pepper mill onto the salad.

Hungry? Ready to try one of the BEST Caesar salads you’ve ever had? I’m here to help.

Thankfully, you don’t need an old-fashioned wooden bowl and fork to mash and mix your ingredients into a smooth dressing; a food processor will work just fine (and spare your wrist).

Lastly, a couple of tips/options:

  • If you’re concerned about using raw eggs in your dressing, Nino’s sells pasteurized whole eggs, right in their shells. No worries, no health concerns.
  • Adding grated Parmesan cheese to this dressing is optional; likewise, there are those who add a pinch of sugar to soften the acidity of the lemon juice.
  • Don’t go cheap on the olive oil. Use something of good quality and something FRESH. It makes a HUGE difference.
  • Croutons? Nino’s has a number of flavors of large croutons just perfect for your salad–and of course fabulous romaine!
  • Once you’ve made your dressing, it is tradition to toss the dressing, Romaine AND croutons together. Plate, and then garnish with pepper and Parmesan cheese.

Classic Caesar Dressing

(Makes 2 Cups)

Ingredients:

2 Medium Garlic Cloves, Chopped
4 ea Anchovy Fillets, Chopped
2 ea Eggs, Extra Large (raw)
2 TBSP Pomeroy or Dijon Mustard, Smooth, Hot
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
2 Dashes Tabasco® Sauce
3 TBSP Lemon Juice
1 Cup Olive Oil (Extra Virgin)
2 TBSP Parmesan Cheese, Grated (Optional)
To Taste Kosher Salt

Method:

1. In a small food processor, puree chopped garlic, anchovies, and then add eggs, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper, and Tabasco. Blend until smooth and creamy.
2. Continue to blend while adding oil and lemon juice alternately in a slow, steady stream until all is used.
3. Stir in Parmesan cheese (optional) and salt to taste.