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Caesar magic 

Caesar Salad

I grew up in the 1970s, aka the good old days, when eating in a restaurant was a special event, like going to the circus. Fancy restaurants were slim on cuisine but heavy on spectacle and theater. There was the exotic Benihana, where robe-clad culinary magicians would stir-fry steak before your eyes, or the generic "Continental" dining room, where tuxedoed waiters would set a plate of bananas on fire and call it Foster. It was magical, and felt downright glamorous. Although most of these dining room magic shows have gone out of vogue with Jell-O desserts, there's one staple that keeps on truckin', continuing to make us feel fabulous in a new century.

The diehard in question is the Caesar salad, found on menus everywhere and often done badly. If you're lucky enough to be in the right dining room at the right time, however, you can get your old-school Caesar groove on, which means having your salad prepared for you to order, tableside.

It's challenging to find such grand culinary theater these days, precisely why you should consider transporting the magic show into your own kitchen. If the dude in the tuxedo can make one, you can, too -- in about five minutes.

Romaine lettuce is key, as is some kind of crouton item, preferably rubbed with garlic. Then it's a matter of the vinaigrette, comprising a few basic components but which can be adjusted according to taste buds. Anchovies are often subject to debate, as is the matter of the raw egg, so you decide. I prefer to use eggs from my local farmer's market, which means a fresher raw product subject to less handling. Still nervous? "Coddle" your egg -- boil for 1 minute, followed by an ice bath to stop cooking and proceed.

Either way, let's get fabulous.

Caesar Salad

1/2 baguette or hunk of crusty bread, slightly stale, cut into 1⁄2-inch slices

3 garlic cloves, peeled

1 head Romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, washed and dried

2 anchovy fillets

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1 large egg

At least 1/4 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano, or to taste

• Preheat oven to 300. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and allow to crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately rub one of the garlic cloves directly onto one side of the toast. Slice into bite-sized pieces, set aside.

• Place inner leaves and hearts of Romaine into a large salad bowl. Tear with hands if smaller pieces are preferred.

• With mortar and pestle, smash anchovies and remaining 2 cloves of garlic, with a dash of salt, until it forms a paste. Plan B: Use blender and puree.

• In a small bowl, add lemon juice, garlic-anchovy paste, mustard and Worcestershire sauce and whisk to combine. Add egg, whisking until blended.

• While whisking, gradually add olive oil until incorporated. Taste for oil/acid balance. Add more oil if necessary. Taste for salt and pepper; add accordingly.

• Pour half of the vinaigrette over lettuce, and toss with tongs until leaves are well-coated. Add rest of vinaigrette as necessary. Add toasts and parmigiano and toss again. Serve immediately.

• Makes enough for 2 or 3 Caesar lovers.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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