Comfort food doesn’t always have to be heavy, thick or filling. As long as something conveys a certain level of familiarity and security, a certain level of nostalgia or gentleness, that food can be comfort food – whether it’s ribs, chicken parmesan, cheesecake or quiche.
A dish that fits right into this paradigm for me is none other than Caesar salad.
Caesar salad is a dish that triggers nostalgia: I remember eating my first Caesar as a very little guy and being amazed at the taste. Later I enjoyed perhaps the best Caesar salad of my life a castle in Kentucky (Yes, you read that correctly). Then there’s every time I enjoyed the Caesar Houston’s. And the list goes on and on.
However, I get a little annoyed when I have a dry, unappealing side dish of Caesar with a nondescript, overly white mash that’s just a poor excuse for dressing up – which is all the more reason to make it at home.
I have adapted my recipe many times, but I tend to emulate the chef Anne Burrell’s eggless recipe, just because I don’t really like the idea of loose, raw eggs floating randomly in my dressing (though I don’t think I have the same chance, since I’m more than okay with it in raw cookie dough, albeit reluctantly) . It’s also a great weeknight meal because it’s quite easy to prepare.
However, as with most things, I’m very, very particular about my Caesar preferences, so here’s a rundown of how I like to put mine together:
I’m a Romaine and/or Iceberg guy. Nothing in between: no frilly leaves, no microgreens, definitely no baby spinach. We need a stronger, sturdier blade to withstand the rich thickness of the dressing. Please also dry your salads through and through and completely! It is immensely important.
I like a big, super-crunchy garlic crouton, so I often buy a baguette or Italian bread, cube it, and then crisp it up in a pan or in the oven in lots of garlic oil. Also make sure to dry both and then season them well. Some people have been interested in breadcrumbs, which I actually love in salads, but I prefer the proper crunch of a whole crouton for a true classic Caesar steakhouse vibe at the table. It also contributes some textural differentiation throughout the salad.
The egg discourse
If you’re feeling fancy, throw in an egg yolk or two! It increases the viscosity and shine of the dressing, but I find the flavor change is negligible and the sliminess of raw egg generally throws me off, so I leave it out.
I’m usually a garlic lover through and through and often add double or triple the amount a recipe calls for, but that’s for cooked garlic. I’ve been becoming more and more sensitive to raw garlic lately; It’s just too powerful, sharp and borderline snappy. I would use a single clove grated to a micro level or chopped super finely. You could always use some garlic powder instead (maybe a pinch of his buddy onion powder too?). Another option would be to skip the garlic in the dressing and make the croutons with tons of garlic so you still get the usual garlic flavor. A Caesar with roasted garlic is also a great idea.
I love a wild shower of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, preferably on a micro level, but pre-grated Parmesan is of course totally fine. Some people add cheese to the dressing, which is great too, but I sometimes feel like it ruins the dressing or is a little too thick for me? That’s why sometimes I skip the cheese in the dressing and instead just garnish the top of the salad with an absolutely ridiculous amount of cheese.
You need Worcestershire, you need the olive oil, you need the mustard, you need the vinegar. I often like to use sherry, but a good red wine vinegar always works. When it comes to mustard, I often tone down the Dijon because it can be a bit overpowering at times. You also need many lemon Here. Buy organic lemons or whole lemons. Before juicing, roll them, use a grater (if you have one), and use a fine-mesh sieve to catch the seeds.
Unless you’re Alison Roman, you probably don’t regularly eat anchovies with reckless abandon. I don’t buy them often and don’t have a particular affinity for them, but they are a must in a “real” Caesar. Personally, I would go for one or two, but if you care about the canned fish lifestyle and are trying to add 10, no one will stop you. It’s your kitchen!
As I’ve written before, I don’t use black pepper often. I just find the spicy taste of most foods too distracting. I always adhere to Burrell’s view that salt is used in everything, while black pepper should be used as a spice – only in certain dishes and for certain applications. However, Caesar salad is one of the few cases where I use lots (lots) of freshly ground black pepper, both in the dressing and on top before topping it with a mound of Parmesan cheese. Don’t skimp on it! It is essential for the iconic Caesar taste.
Everything – or nothing – works here, but of course you can’t beat the classic grilled chicken. However, it is absolutely not necessary. I sometimes feel like it weighs down the leaves or soaks up some of the dressing, leaving some of the salad itself untouched.
I always make my dressing in a blender or VitaMix – I like the smoothness and consistency – but you can also make it in a bowl with a large whisk. However, you want to make sure to incorporate plenty of air to make the dressing really strong and full-bodied.
You need to toss this salad! Don’t just add a few bare leaves with a spoonful of dressing on top and serve. That is The Salad that the dressing must be right so that it is properly distributed between the salads and croutons. I like to use tongs for this, but if you have sausages, this is the perfect time to get them out.
You can do this in other directions, either grilling the romaine, which is always a fun thing to do, or serving it in more of a wedge-shaped slurry shape. Sometimes I like to serve whole boards of romaine lettuce – I love the texture and the fork-and-knife aspect – but of course the classic application is always perfect. As you wish!
Finally, make sure you use a really large bowl. You’ll need the space. A wooden table creates a fun look at the table.
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5 cloves of garlic, peeled, one finely chopped or grated and the others left whole
2 to 3 lemons, juiced and grated
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 to 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (or vinegar of your choice)
Anchovies, pickled in oil (as many or as few as you like, or none)
1 to 2 egg yolks (or omit)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire
1 cup “good” extra virgin olive Oil (as Ina would say), separated
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large baguette or Italian bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
Romaine lettuce and iceberg galore
A very big one Chunks from Parmigiano Reggiano
- In a large bowl, blender or VitaMix, whisk or combine minced or grated garlic, lemon juice and zest, Dijon, vinegar, anchovies (if using), egg yolk(s) (if using), and Worcestershire until well combined.
- Slowly add olive oil (reserve about 2 tablespoons) and stir until dressing begins to emulsify and looks creamy and smooth.
- Season well with salt and pepper. Refrigerate to allow flavors to mingle.
- On a large tray or pan, add the remaining olive oil and mix it with the remaining garlic and the baguette cubes. Cook over medium heat or in an oven set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the croutons are well browned and crispy. Discard garlic cloves and season croutons with salt.
- Prepare the salad according to your wishes.
- Toss salads with croutons and half of the dressing. Taste and season again. If you wish, add more dressing.
- Rinse with plenty of grated Parmesan. surcharge
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