You may be wondering what a Caesar salad has to do with French cooking. Very little, but I want to feel free with this blog to veer off message every now and then when I get the urge to cook something outside of Julia Child’s culinary canon. I’ve always been a fan of the humble Caesar salad, but have never attempted to make the dressing myself. The shop bought bottles seem perfectly serviceable, but having seen Tom Kerridge make the real deal on TV this week, I felt inspired to give it a go.
The story goes that the salad was created in 1924 by Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini at his eponymous Caesar’s restaurant in Tijuana, south of San Diego in Baja California. Having been inundated with guests in a Fourth of July stampede, Cardini is said to have rustled up the salad from the ingredients he had left in his kitchen, assembling the dish tableside for added flair. In a happy twist of fate given the subject matter of my blog, Pasadena-born Julia Child is said to have travelled to Mexico and enjoyed a Caesar salad at Caesar’s in 1925, when she was just thirteen.
Caesar’s original recipe was made with romaine lettuce, croutons, and the all-important dressing, featuring Worcestershire sauce, coddled eggs, Parmesan, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, Dijon mustard and a few twists of black pepper. The salad has since evolved, and rather than being a background ingredient within the Worcestershire sauce, anchovies now play a starring role. So much so, that the presence of chicken seems entirely redundant in an authentic Caesar salad.
Going with Tom Kerridge’s recipe, in place of olive oil I used rapeseed oil, which gave the dressing a wonderfully vivid yellow hue. While the original recipe called for romaine lettuce, cos also works a treat. I cheated with the croutons, using ones from a packet from M&S, as the recipe required stale white bread, which I didn’t have to hand. Everything hangs on the dressing, which is full of punchy flavours, so the key to getting it right is making sure all of the elements are in balance.
For the dressing I chopped up six anchovies and whacked them in the blender along with two egg yolks, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, a finely grated small garlic clove, and a dash of white wine vinegar. Then, like making a mayo, I added the rapeseed oil while the blender was running, keeping the flow of the oil slow but steady, so as not to overwhelm the egg yolks. It soon turned into a gloriously thick sauce to which I added a mound of grated Parmesan and a squeeze of lemon.
Staying true to Tom’s recipe, I finished the salad by layering it with anchovies, but in hindsight the dish really didn’t need them. The dressing is so punchy, from the tang of the vinegar and the heat of the mustard to the saltiness of the anchovies, it worked best as a solo act without any additional anchovies to ramp up the saltiness to 11. As long as all the elements are in balance, then the bigger the flavour hit the better in my book, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a bolder dressing than this.
The only downside to learning how to make so many store cupboard staples is that once you’ve had the homemade versions and you know how good they taste, it’s hard to go back to the shop-bought bottles. Perhaps that’s a good thing, but I worry that this experience may change me irrevocably – the more I learn, the less I’ll be inclined to make do with the readymade versions, and yet in these frenetic times it’s hard to find the time to make things properly from scratch. Therein lies the rub.