The Simple Art Of Cooking: Perfect Caesar Salad

Romaine lettuce is ubiquitous in Florida food markets, whether a national chain or specialty food markets such as Whole Foods and a relative newcomer, Fresh Market. One can purchase individual heads of romaine, wrapped three in a plastic bag or even washed, cut up and ready to dress with accompanying dressing. With a fine salad spinner in my rental here in Miami Beach, I opt for a fresh crisp head. Dressing for me is always freshly prepared; usually nothing more than vinegar or lemon juice and, of course, extra-virgin olive oil.

I love making a classic Caesar salad and often wonder why restaurants can’t always get it right. When we get a yen for Caesar salad I pretty much follow my recipe below. While I like a 3-minute soft boiled egg for the dressing, I’ve also overcooked the egg to almost hard cooked and the recipe worked equally as well. Just be sure to chop the egg very fine. I do hope you will make your own croutons; they can be done ahead and the difference is significant. For a simple romaine salad add scallions and dill to the washed and dried greens then toss with a basic dressing. I hope this old Greek proverb will inspire you to prepare your own salad dressings. “Without oil, without vinegar, how can we take a trip?”

CAESAR SALAD

Use only the best of everything for this classic salad from the freshest romaine lettuce to piquant Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Serves 4 to 6

1 head Romaine lettuce
1 to 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 to 6 tinned anchovies, drained
1 cup croutons, preferably homemade*
1 3-minute cooked egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice, red wine or balsamic vinegar
5 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Shaved Parmigiano cheese

1. Discard any bruised outer leaves. Cut away and discard any discolored ribs where necessary.

2. Wash and spin dry lettuce in a salad spinner, then carefully roll up in paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Can be done ahead to this point. Place in a Ziploc bag and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Bring greens to room temperature if refrigerated.

3. Place egg in a small saucepan of cold water. Bring to the edge of a boil, then simmer for 3 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon, cool under running water and shell.

4. Place finely chopped garlic in bottom of a large salad bowl. With fork mash anchovies into the garlic then cut egg into the anchovy garlic mixture. Add croutons and lemon juice or wine vinegar and stir to mix. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste then gradually whisk in olive oil, one tablespoon at a time.

5. Just before serving place the greens over the dressing and carefully lift the greens, with a folding motion, until leaves are well coated with the dressing. Taste to adjust seasoning if necessary. Divide evenly onto 4 to 6 salad plates and shave the Parmigiano over the greens. Serve at once.

*Croutons: Cut about 1/3 loaf of crusty French or Italian bread into 1/4-inch cubes. Toss the cubes in a bit of olive oil to coat and bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes. Cool and use in salads. Can be made ahead in larger batches. Put in a wax paper lined tin and store in a dry cool place. The croutons will keep for several days

VINEGAR AND OIL DRESSING, GREEK STYLE

Without oil, without vinegar, how can we take a trip? An old Greek Proverb.

At times it is difficult to write out a recipe for vinaigrette and this vinegar and oil dressing is a good example. It is simpler to describe how to simply dress a salad. Tilt the olive oil bottle or cruet over the greens in the salad bowl. In a gentle, rotary motion pour the oil in a slow steady stream beginning at the outer perimeter and steadily moving the bottle into the center. As a base work with a ratio of 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar and place about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt in the bowl of a tablespoon measure. Fill the measure with vinegar and repeat the same circular movement over the greens, except the movement is quicker than with the oil.

Note: As a rule I will toss the greens after adding the oil. The oil-tossed greens can sit for up to 10 minutes in the event you need to attend to another dish. However, just before serving the salad, add the vinegar, toss well to mix, portion and serve.

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