Most of the recipes I made when I started cooking were total clunkers. There was a lemon chicken that called for lemon curd, the offensive cauliflower that I have since redeemed, and I once sliced my hand open slicing chicken for a stir-fry.
The one recipe that I’m still making all of these years later is an easy Caesar dressing.
I have no idea how I stumbled upon Definitely Not Martha, a delightful Canadian woman, but I clung to a print out of her Caesar dressing until I had it committed to memory. I pretty much always have the ingredients on hand and apparently travelled with them sometimes.
One summer when I was home from college and felt the need to lug everything from my apartment in Philadelphia to Long Island, I kept some of the ingredients in a box in my closet. I don’t think anchovy paste and dijon mustard are supposed to sit in a hot closet all summer but it worked out.
The original recipe calls for a heap of mayo. I don’t mind mayo and use it but I know plenty of people who hate the way the white stuff jiggles on a spoon or think it tastes gross.
Sorry but mayo does do a great job bringing this dressing together. Though one morning I was binging on PBS cooking shows and saw an episode of Lidia’s Italy and her Caesar dressing had no mayo. No mayo or even raw egg, which I have no problem using when making my chocolate mousse but never got on board with for salad dressing.
She turned to hardboiled egg yolks and olive oil instead.
It makes sense because that’s pretty much what mayo is, except the yolk is raw for mayo. Hardboild eggs come together in 15 minutes and hopefully you’re better at peeling them than I am. Luckily the whites aren’t mandatory in this salad. But I chop up the shaggy whites that aren’t stuck to the shell and toss them with the finished salad.
The original recipe gets its punch from copious amounts of garlic. I dial back the pungent garlic but play around with the proportions of the other ingredients. More worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard provide the bite and backbone for a good spicy caesar dressing.
Yes, a good caesar salad should be spicy. Not hot like a jalapeno spicy, but strong and you should feel like maybe you need to brush your teeth after eating some. I know I definitely did when I went straight from this salad to a meeting. I became extremely aware of the garlic and anchovy paste that was probably emanating from my pores when I hugged the person goodbye.
Whatever, it’s fine. If you don’t like a little Caesar breath then don’t have lunch with me. And if you’re really concerned then pull back on the amount of dressing. This stuff is strong so you don’t need a lot to begin with. For a head of torn up romaine I use 2 tablespoons of dressing to lightly coat the leaves and then make it rain garlicky croutons and more cheese.
Speaking of croutons: If you have time to make salad dressing then you have time for homemade croutons. You can use any bread, I’ve done it with sad hamburger buns and stale pita and the croutons were delicious. Bring the bread back to life and to a brown crisp in a hot pan with garlic, olive oil, and salt. A 10 minute investment, 10 minutes tops.
Homemade croutons are uneven. Some cubes will be deeply brown and crispy while others will be lighter and retain more of their soft chew but I like the differences.
So make your own croutons, make your own caesar dressing but I’ll let you off the hook and tell you to buy the lettuce from the store.
- 2 hardboiled eggs
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
- 1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- 2 cups cubed stale bread
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed
- 1 head of romaine
- Extra cheese for topping
- Boil two eggs. My method is bringing the eggs and cold water to a boil and then turning the heat off and covering the eggs. Set aside for 15 minutes and then peel.
- Scoop out the yolks and mix in a bowl with 1/4 cup of olive oil until the yolks are broken down and fully incorporated into the oil.
- Add the lemon juice, anchovy paste, worcestershire sauce and dijon mustard and stir again.
- Finely mince garlic and add to the dressing.
- Add cheese to taste, I usually add 1/4 cup.
- Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
- When the pan is hot add the cubed bread, smashed clove of garlic, and large pinches of salt and pepper. You should hear the bread sizzle when it hits the pan and hot oil.
- Brown the bread, stirring occasionally to brown each side of the cubes, for 8-10 minutes.
- Tear apart a head of romaine. You want a solid lettuce like romaine or iceberg something more delicate won't be able to stand up the dressing.
- In a large bowl, so you can toss the salad, add the romaine, 2 tablespoons of the dressing, and a handful of croutons.
- Toss so each piece of lettuce has a little bit of dressing. You don't want the romaine to be drowning in dressing.
- Top each plated salad with a little more cheese.