How to Make the Best Caesar Salad in the World (Just Don't Lie About the Anchovies)
In the 90s, I worked as a chef for my sister Leslie Joy, who owned a catering business. Potential clients would look over sample menus at 24 Carrot Catering and undoubtedly ask to taste the Caesar salad. I copied the recipe from Linda Ruth Harvey’s the Best of Colorado’s Gourmet Gold cookbook, which my sister had bought when she lived in California. After one or two bites, the response was always the same. “That is the best Caesar salad I have ever tasted.” It turns out the bittersweet irony to the request meant I would be in the kitchen preparing and sampling the final product, which was the one job I loved.
The salad originated in Tijuana, Mexico, at Caesars Restaurant and Bar, so the story goes.
According to an article by Erika Beach in With Love Paper and Wine, the original owner of the restaurant, Cesar, and his chef Livio Santino, created the dressing in the 1920s. Legend has it a famous Spanish reporter published an article with the recipe, and the salad became internationally renowned. The formula in Harvey’s book does not contain the same ingredients as the original. There is still an ongoing fight about whether the original recipe had anchovies.
Making perfect Caesar salad is not an art form, but it requires a top-notch recipe.
Here is a list of reasons to try Harvey’s version below:
REASON # 1. WHY SHOULD YOU MAKE HOMEMADE?
Making homemade Caesar salad is better than purchasing store-bought that has ingredients such as xanthan gum, cheese culture, and natural flavor. Whatever those ingredients are, I don’t want to eat them or serve them to guests.
REASON # 2. ROMAINE IS ALL THE RAVE
Romaine lettuce is crunchy and high in minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Plus, it’s an excellent source of vitamins C, K, and folate. Using anything but hand-torn romaine in a Caesar salad doesn’t pay homage to whatever recipe you use.
Last week, I ventured to Lucco Cucina + Bar, in the heart of Florham Park, NJ at 207 Ridgedale Avenue to taste-test to find a better Caesar than I can make at home. Lucco is a modern Italian restaurant with an open view of its state-of-the-art kitchen. The main dining room looks like a ski lodge you might see in Tahoe, complete with a floor-to-ceiling fireplace. The restaurant is warm and inviting, outside or inside at a table or seated at the spacious white marble bar.
I ordered Caesar salad, described as “romaine lettuce, croutons, parmesan, and caesar dressing,” from the menu, willing to share it with the other diners at the table.
Our server brought a heaping plate of salad with a perfect ratio of parmesan and croutons on top of crispy romaine. Chef Anthony doesn’t use eggs or anchovies, but the Caesar was incredible. Yet, I still maintain Harvey’s recipe is better.
REASON # 3. ONLY FRESH INGREDIENTS WILL DO
Using only the most acceptable ingredient will make your dressing exceptional. On hand should be garden-fresh, hand-torn romaine, and fresh eggs, along with extra-virgin olive oil, whole peeled garlic, tins of anchovies, and imported Parmesan cheese. For example, never use bottled lemon juice in place of fresh-squeezed. I’m confident you can find the other simple ingredients listed in the recipe in any kitchen.
REASON #4. ANCHOVIES OR NO ANCHOVIES?
Despite the ongoing controversy of using anchovies or not, I believe it’s more of a personal choice. Suppose you add the salty, oily fillet often used in various recipes around the world. In that case, I suggest you tell your guests because the worst thing that could happen after the fabulous showcasing of your salad is someone ends up in the hospital with an allergic reaction to fish. You will sit in the emergency room in your party outfit for hours instead of your dining room or patio. I’m sure the hospital food service does not serve Caesar salad, and they don’t serve wine.
REASON # 4. CODDLE YOUR EGGS, PLEASE
Harvey’s recipe calls for coddled eggs. Some chefs prefer to use uncooked eggs, but I suggest cooking them for health safety. (Place a shelled raw egg in boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute)
REASON # 5. YOUR HANDS WILL GET A WORKOUT
Buy a piece of top-notch Parmesan cheese and grate it by hand. Purchase POD (protected designation of origin) Italian cheese that’s aged 12-36 months; you’ll be guaranteed to get the sharp, nutty and fruity taste that only strict cheese manufacturing can produce. There’s nothing like the tangy taste of parmesan when you steal a bite before it’s sprinkled in your salad bowl.
REASON # 6. YOU WILL HAVE SOMETHING TO BRAG ABOUT
When you use the exact measurement of ingredients and blend them, guests will take a bite of salad and beg for the recipe. Then, voila, you’re a chef.
3 small heads romaine, washed, dried and chilled
1 cup crisp croutons
1 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
3 large cloves of garlic
8 anchovy fillets
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
3 eggs, coddled
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Juice of 1 and ½ lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
Step 1. In a large salad bowl, place the romaine torn to pieces. Top with croutons and cheese.
Step 2. In a blender, combine all the other ingredients and mix well.
Step 3. Pour dressing around the outside of the bowl and toss well with the greens.
Step 4. Serve.
(Recipe from Linda Ruth Harvey’s “The Best of Colorado’s Gourmet Gold,” Laika Inc., 1982)
Invented by Caesar Cardini, not Julius Caesar.
There is one last thing. Eat, enjoy, and share the recipe.
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