Historically, I haven’t been a fan of Caesar salad. If you took me to a restaurant and asked me to order a salad, and if Caesar was on the menu, I’d inevitably choose another salad.
There’s something about the thick, creamy dressing that always unnerved me. Plus, there aren’t that many sweet toppings. I like salads that make me forget that I’m eating salad, i.e., ones with lots of fruit, nuts, and other distractions on top. Or, it could be as simple as sliced tomatoes, olive oil, and sea salt. I eat that “salad” every Saturday during the summer for lunch with baguette.
However, I bought a huge head of romaine lettuce on Saturday at the farmers’ market and I needed to use it up. I thought about creating my own salad with lots of fruit and perhaps some other vegetables, but then I decided to give a homemade Caesar salad a chance. I shuddered a little at memories of restaurant Caesars with sprinkles of dried-out Parmesan cheese and lettuce drowning in dressing. I vowed that I would change my Caesar salad narrative starting now.
I succeeded. Granted, I felt like I wanted to puke in the salad dressing-making stage, but once I got past that, everything came together and was delicious.
The first step of making a Caesar salad is making the dressing. This is not for the faint of heart, or for people who hate seafood. To make the dressing, you have to drain six anchovies that are packed in oil, chop them with a head of garlic and salt, and then mash it together to make a paste. It looks as gross at it sounds. It smells even worse.
Then, you have to mix that paste with lemon juice, olive oil, vegetable oil, mustard, grated Parmesan cheese, and egg yolks. Yes, you read that last part correctly. You use raw egg to make Caesar salad dressing, which might freak some people out but rest assured that I’m still alive and I ate huge helpings yesterday for dinner and today for lunch.
After that, the salad practically assembles itself. You cut up the romaine (or tear up, in my case) into bite-sized pieces, and then you top it with croutons, shaved Parmesan cheese, and dressing. The shaved Parmesan cheese makes a real difference in this salad. It adds a little heft and more flavor than shredded Parm.
You can make your own croutons but I opted for store bought because I wanted to eat the bread I have with the salad. I bet homemade croutons would also distract from the restaurant Caesar salad trauma, if you’re suffering from it.
As I’m reflecting on it, I think the real reason I hated Caesar salad so much before was because it obscured the ingredients’ best features. A poor Caesar salad masks crispy, crunchy Romaine leaves, which are one of the heartiest and most texturally-appealing salad leaves, and it can be underwhelming in terms of flavor.
I’d recommend using shaved parm, the crunchiest croutons you can find, and taking extra care with the dressing. Taste as you go along…although maybe not in the anchovy mash stage. I added more lemon to my dressing and it made a big difference.
Here’s the recipe I consulted for my Caesar salad. I followed it to the “t” except for homemade croutons.
Here’s a song to get you started on your Caesar salad journey.