If the ancient Romans had discovered this tangy salad in time, perhaps their Empire wouldn’t have fallen.
Caesar salad actually has nothing to do with old Julius and the emperors who followed him. It was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, sometime in the 1920s, by chef Caesar Cardini, who used leftovers to create a salad for guests in his restaurant. The original dish contained romaine (cos) lettuce, croutons, Parmesan, salt, pepper, lemon juice and a coddled egg.
These ingredients appear in most modern versions of the salad, but there is endless argument about the rest. Some insist on anchovies, some on Worcestershire sauce. Chicken, bacon, pancetta, warm poached eggs and even biltong can be added for variety, but these additions have been known to cause fistfights between quibbling chefs. Every Caesar salad has its own identity. However it is made, it remains one of the world’s finest salads, and in many professional kitchens, the ultimate test of skill is how well the Caesar salad is made. Whatever you put into your own version, make sure you use the best quality ingredients.
TO DRINK: L’Ormarins Pinot Grigio 2008, a light, dry wine with crisp acidity, the ideal partner for this salad.
- 250ml (1 cup) croutons
- 1 garlic clove, cut in half crossways
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 – 3 heads cos or baby gem lettuce
- 1 large egg
- 3 anchovy fillets
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- pinch of salt
- 10ml (2 tsp) Dijon mustard
- 60ml (¼ cup) Parmesan, freshly grated
- 30ml (2 tbsp) lemon juice
- 200ml extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To make the croutons, use good quality bread, cubed roughly and toasted.
While the croutons are still warm, rub the sides of a metal bowl with the garlic.
Transfer the croutons to the garlic-rubbed bowl and season. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and toss the croutons well so that they become slightly infused with garlic. Set aside, covered, until required.
Wash and dry the lettuce and refrigerate until needed: it should be nice and crisp.
To make the dressing, put the egg in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to near-boiling stage and remove the saucepan from the stove.
Leave the egg in the hot water for 1 – 2 minutes, then place in iced water to cool completely.
In a bowl, crush the anchovy fillets with the back of a spoon. Mix in the garlic and salt.
Add the mustard and 30ml (1 tbsp) of the Parmesan and combine well.
Shell the coddled egg and mix into the dressing, along with the lemon juice, until well combined.
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Adjust the seasoning to taste. If the dressing is too thick, add a few drops of warm water to thin it slightly.
Add the remaining Parmesan, season with black pepper and combine with the croutons and lettuce. Toss gently and serve.
- The salad must be served immediately to ensure that the lettuce remains crisp.
- I like using baby gem lettuce, as it is strong, robust and full of flavour, holding up well to the dressing.
- Use only the best quality olive oil and Parmesan.
- Always use fresh lemon juice.
- A coddled egg is customarily plunged in boiling water and left to stand for 30 seconds, but this may pose some health risks, so I leave mine for about 2 minutes. I use the whole egg in the dressing, but many recipes call for only the warmed yolk.
- The dressing can also be made in a blender.
- Additional cheese and whole anchovy fillets may be added at the end.
- If you don’t like anchovies, use Worcestershire sauce instead. Since it contains anchovy essence, it has become an acceptable substitute in many versions of this salad.