File it under Italian...or maybe Mexican? Both?
-CAROL OF MOON-
By Carol Dzadony-Mancini
If I were a betting woman, which I'm not – I'd rather spend money on shoes than gambling – I would put all my money on the fact that the Caesar salad was invented in Rome and named after Julius or Augustus Caesar. C'mon dice... mama needs a new pair of shoes!
Eeeehhhtt!! (Think Family Feud buzzer). I'd lose it all. The Caesar salad was neither invented in Italy nor named after any of the rulers of Ancient Rome.
Still, the Caesar salad has a dicey ethos.
You may want to sit down for this one. Where did the Caesar salad originate?
Surprisingly, in Mexico. Logistically, that is. It's like Sting, "Oh, I'm an alien – I'm a legal alien, I'm an Englishmen in New York"– well, an Italian salad in Mexico. (Trust me, it sings well).
Does that make it a Mexican dish? Although it is hugely popular there, the jury is still out on that one. Let me explain.
The Caesar salad was invented by an Italian man (therefore an Italian cuisine? Jury still out on that one) named Caesar Cardini. Italians can rest assured that there was Italian influence behind its creation.
In 1896 Cardini was born in Northern Italy. His ethos is rather dicey as well. Somewhere around 1910 he made it to America and eventually returned to Italy but ventured back to the United States in 1919. With his partner William Brown, he ran Brown's Restaurant in Sacramento, then moved to San Diego. At that time, he established the first of several restaurants in Tijuana, where he could avoid the restrictions of prohibition. And where he created his famous salad.
That's right, the Caesar salad was invented in Mexico.
Cardini's daughter, Rose, claims her father was cooking at his restaurant when he ran short on ingredients and threw the salad together sans anchovy (like most recipes call for). Of course, the facts here are hard to follow. Some claim it was actually Caesar's brother, Alex, who created the salad, with anchovy.
Others claim that a restaurant employee created the salad, but Caesar stole all the glory.
No matter who made it, everyone agrees that it was created in Tijuana at the restaurant Caesar's around 1924. And it must have been a hit. Suddenly it became fashionable among Hollywood and other celebrities, especially after Cardini had moved his restaurant a few blocks to the hotel, which was built around 1929 (nowadays called Hotel Caesar's).
If you're like me, I always think of Caesar's salad as “fancy.” And I guess they were known to be. The gilded age of Hollywood ate it, it could only be made in restaurants, and it could only be found in fancy restaurants (which is something we hardly dined in).
It wasn't every day growing up that my mom or dad would whip up a Caesar dressing and serve it tossed through romaine lettuce. In fact, it was never. And nowadays? My kids ask me to make the dressing like I'm Kraft. But in fairness to them, I haven't found a Caesar dressing that resembles anything like homemade. Ever. (Nope, not even the fancy refrigerated dressings in produce.)
I do remember the first time I had an authentic Caesar salad, I must have been 16 years old at a "fancy" restaurant in downtown Pittsburgh. My mom tells me it was Klein's Seafood Restaurant in the elegant quarters at 330 Fourth Ave. It was the only real seafood restaurant in town and the only fancy one that garnered celebrities when they would pass through. So, of course, they made "fancy" Caesar salad. And if my recollection is correct, it was done tableside.
They smashed garlic and anchovies (yuck! I thought), egg yolks (Oh my goodness, what is she making me try?) and oil. I don't recall what else they put in it, but I was eager to try it. Honestly, I don't even remember if I liked it. I guess I don't remember running to the bathroom to throw up, so I must have liked it.
Cooking Class with Carol
Cardini went on to patent his recipe and bottle his dressing. You can still buy it today. I can't speak of its authenticity to the 1924 original, I've never tried it.
Truthfully the only bottled dressing I buy is the Makoto Ginger Dressing and that's because I cannot, for the life of me, duplicate the flavor. I tend to make all of my salad dressings, even if I just use the dry packets of spices like Hidden Valley Ranch or Good Seasons Italian. I feel like they just taste better.
Cardini's recipe had six simple components – full stalks of lettuce, raw egg, olive oil, croutons, parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce.
I have come to love the flavor of the homemade fresh Caesar dressing I make. There's a certain umami (that's an indescribable flavor) you just can't put your finger on.
If the thought of anchovy makes you squeamish, try to not let it get to you. You could substitute Worcestershire sauce. But you'll just be adding anchovy anyway. Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovy. Don't shoot the messenger. It's the umami that you need. That extra oomph! That extra something to get people wondering what you did to make it so damn tasty. Trust me, you won't even know the anchovy is in there, but you'll miss it when it's not there. I know a few picky eaters that have tried it and never knew until after that they ate anchovy. I was proud of them, and they were proud of themselves. And they are just fine.
Raw egg is also essential to making a delicious homemade Caesar dressing. It's what makes the dressing thick and creamy. What makes Caesar dressing so rich and luxurious is the labor-intensive old fashioned way of whipping the eggs and oil together in a large wooden bowl. (For this recipe I will use a food processor) When combined with the oil, the mixture will emulsify to a thick and creamy paste. This is important too as it can withstand the structure of the romaine lettuce and help to adhere to the edges. Of course, I will add the disclaimer that consuming raw or undercooked eggs blah, blah, blah... but according to the CDC only one in every 20,000 eggs are contaminated with Salmonella. You can try substitutes like silky tofu or Greek yogurt, or even mayonnaise, but I don't know how it will taste since I've never tried them.
It's important to use lettuce that can stand up to the weight and thickness of the dressing. Romaine lettuce is recommended. It has the same flavor as iceberg, it's just way easier to section proportionally than iceberg. I tend to cut off and discard the uppermost layers.
This is where things differ from marinara sauce. Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese is used instead of Romano cheese. Not that Romano can't be used. There isn't much difference.
Parmigiano- Reggiano, in my opinion, is more pungent and flavorful and is made from cow's milk while Romano is made from sheep's milk. Remember, there are few ingredients in the dressing, so better quality products will yield a better-finished product.
Most of the time, my local Italian market sells store-made croutons, and that will be my first choice. If they don't have any, I will buy my favorite already packaged crouton. I will typically only make croutons if I have extra day-old bread. I will include the recipe for homemade croutons. They are delicious and really make the salad pop! I typically do not remove the crust as to me that just seems wasteful, but if you want prettier-looking croutons that soak up all of the flavoring, remove the crust.
'Fancy' Ceasar Salad
1 loaf rustic Italian bread
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves
4 anchovy fillets
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 large egg yolk
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, graded, or 2-1/2 ounce shaved
20 ounces romaine lettuce, outer leaves and tops discarded, inner leaves washed and dried
What to do:
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Combine the butter and olive oil in a large bowl. Add the cubes of bread and toss until coated. Sprinkle with salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper; toss until evenly coated. Spread the bread in a single layer on a 12-by-17-inch baking sheet. Bake until croutons are golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
In a food processor fitted with the blade, place the garlic, anchovy fillets and salt in and pulse until chopped and incorporated.
Add pepper, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and egg yolk. Pulse to combine.
With the processor on, and from the top, stream extra virgin olive oil. The dressing will be thick and emulsified.
Chop the romaine leaves into 1- to 1 1/2-inch pieces. Add the croutons, romaine and cheese to the bowl, and toss well. If you wish, grate extra cheese over the top. Serve immediately.
Dressing can be stored in an airtight container for up to three days in refrigerator.
Note: Raw eggs should not be used in food prepared for pregnant women, babies, young children, or anyone whose health is compromised.
Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness.
Carol Dzadony-Mancini is a former resident of Stowe Township and currently resides in Moon Township with her family. Her hobbies include riding horses, skiing, crocheting, hiking with her dogs, and of course cooking for the people she loves.