Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Original Caesar Salad and the Origin of the Famous Caesar Salad Recipe!

     There are so many poor quality bad caesar salads that are served in second rate restaurants.  Thick pre-made goop in a bucket that many low end restaurants call caesar dressing is not what a true caesar looks like.  Overly seasoned croutons are another trait of a bad caesar salad.
     The original caesar dressing had a very light texture and it was golden in color.  Caesar dressing should be made to order, just like how the original recipe was made.  In fine restaurants, caesar salad dressing is made table side by a captain or Maitre D'.  
     One famous tale about the origin of a caesar salad states that this salad was made quickly on a busy night, when the food supply was running low in a restaurant kitchen, during the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.  That story is entertaining, but caesar salad was invented many years before.
     Other stories say that an Italian American restaurant owner named Caesar Cardini invented this recipe in the early 1900's while operating a restaurant in Tijuana during the American prohibition.  A caesar salad's flavors are Italian in origin, so the early 1900's story seems to be plausible.  The style of whipping up a dressing by the table side to impress customers goes far back into Italian culinary history and Persian Arabic history.  Because worcestershire sauce is a fermented product, Arabic Persian origins of caesar salad can be discounted.
     Nobody knows if the caesar salad was invented by Caesar Cardini for sure, because there was so much table side salad preparation being done in the early 1900's.  Like the start of many recipes, the caesar dressing may have been made by many Italian Americans for years, before being given a name.  
     While apprenticing in Italian restaurants, I learned to make a thick basil garlic aioli for salads.  The dressing was simply referred to as the house salad dressing by the Sicilian and Venetian chefs.  That dressing had no name, but it was a standard Italian dressing.  Later in my career, that same thick basil garlic dressing was also simply referred to as the house dressing at another fine Italian dressing.  I asked an Italian chef at the restaurant why the thick salad dressing had no name.  I got the good old Italian wise guy response of "What do you want me to do?  Name this dressing after myself like Caesar did?  If I give it a name, then we can't use this dressing as our house dressing anymore!"
     It took nearly 20 years for me to fathom what that Italian chef meant in that wise guy style response!  The chef was wise, but he sure was no smart aleck.  That chef state the truth.  The style of an unnamed mysterious secret house dressing was very popular with Italian restaurateurs in the early 1900's and it is still popular today.  Great unnamed house dressing recipes are shared by many Italian restaurateurs in a syndicated fashion from coast to coast.  If a house dressing had a name, then it would not be a scret or a true Italian house dressing!
     Whether the guests at Caesar Cardini's restaurant caused the house dressing to be named caesar dressing or whether Caesar Cardini named the standard Italian house dressing after himself is unknown.  The unnamed golden colored house dressing that was made table side at many Italian restaurants was finally named caesar dressing after Caesar Cardini.
     The caesar salad and dressing became popular with the elite who travelled across the border into Tijuana Mexico to enjoy some legal booze during the prohibition years.  The elite and Hollywood crowd love to make food items famous, and they made the caesar salad famous.  So, the common golden Italian house dressing became famous and it was named caesar dressing, to the dismay of other Italian restaurateurs that were serving this dressing simply as an unnamed secret house dressing at the time!
     That is why the Italian chef that I asked about naming the house dressing had spoken with dread about naming the house dressing after himself like Caesar Cardini supposedly did.  That chef did not want to be cursed by other Italian restaurant owners that were using that same unnamed thick basil garlic dressing for their house salads!                
     Caesar salad originally was served as thin wedge of romaine with the stem attached.  The customer was expected to pick the lettuce up by the stalk, dip into the dressing on the plate and dine with the fingers.  That was the style of fine dining salads in the 1920's and 1930's.  Croutons, pimiento and anchovies accompanied this salad.  A sprinkle of fresh grated parmesan cheese accompanied the dressing, but it was not one of the ingredients in the dressing.  A few oil cured black olives were served on the plate.  (Not kalamata olives!)
     Anchovy in the dressing or not?  That is the only modern age option.  The original caesar salad had anchovy filets on the plate and no anchovies in the dressing.  Later, anchovy paste or chopped anchovy became part of the caesar dressing.
     It took a lot of research and luckily asking the right question to a wise guy Italian chef that gave an insightful response many years ago to confirm the origin of caesar dressing.  My step Syrian Lebanese grandfather was a speakeasy piano player in the prohibition years and he was a restauranteur.  He told me that caesar salad was popular long before that salad was given a name.  He too mentioned somebody had been cursed for giving that house salad a name!  The true origin of the caesar salad falls into the realm of secret Italian house dressings that were later given a name!  Once a name is given to a common Italian house salad dressing, the party comes to an end!

     Caesar Salad Croutons: 
     Heat a saute pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 genterous splash of olive oil.
     Add 1 small handful of small diced cube shaped Italian bread pieces.  (Remove the crust from the bread first.)
     Stir and saute the small bread cubes gently, till they become crisp and golden in color.
     Remove the croutons from the hot pan and set them on a dish.
     Set the croutons aside.
     Add absolutely no seasoning to the croutons!  This is the way ceasar croutons were made for the original recipe.  Overly seasoned croutons will detract from the great flavors of the dressing. 

     Caesar Salad Dressing Recipe:
     Make the Ceasar dressing first, so the flavors meld!  Caesar dressing was not originally made like a thick emulsion.  
     Place 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil into a small mixing bowl.
     Add 1 egg yoke.
     Add 1 minced garlic clove.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of worcestershire sauce.
     Add coarse ground black pepper and sea salt.
     Add 2 finely minced anchovy filets or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of anchovy paste.  (The anchovies are optional.  Anchovies became part of caesar dressing long after the dressing was named.)
     Add 2 teaspoons of dijon mustard.
     Start whisking the ingredients.
     Whisk until the oil and ingredients are slighly emusified.
     Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, while whisking.
     Add the freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 of a lemon, while whisking. 
     Drizzle 2 tablespoon more of virgin olive oil, while gently and slowly stirring, so the dressing remains a golden color and so it does not emulsify like an aioli or mayonnaise!
     Note:  The dressing should have a thin smooth body and it should far from creamy.  It should be a semi translucent golden color.  The dressing should only be partially emuslified.  If all the oil was added last while whisking, then this caesar dressing would have an incorrect white mayonnaise color and texture.
     Set the caesar dressing aside and let the dressing flavors meld, while the salad is arrange on the plate.

     Caesar Salad Assembly:
     Chopped romaine was not how the original caesar salad was made!  Thin wedges of romaine were picked up by the stalk end by the fingers and then eaten.
     Place two trimmed romaine lettuce quarter wedges on a plate.
     Spoon the caesar dressing over the lettuce wedges and onto the plate.
     Sprinkle the croutons over the lettuce wedges.
     Sprinkle a little bit of finely grated parmesan cheese over the lettuce.
     Garnish the lettuce wedges with 2 anchovy filets and 4 long thin roasted pimiento strips.
     Garnish the plate with a few oil cured black olives and 2 lemon wedges.

     What a classic caesar salad this is!  The olive oil flavor permeates the unseasoned croutons.  The plain flavor of the croutons do not compete with the caesar dressing's flavor at all.  Picking the lettuce up by the stalk and dipping it in the caesar dressing on the plate is a fun old fashioned way to eat this salad and it is the original way this salad was eaten!


  1. This salad looks so healthy and delicious. Great combination. I’ll have to try this when the veggies are ready.

  2. Thanks! Few chefs know that this was the way caesar salads were originally served and eaten.