There are a few variations of this salad, and many stories as to its origin. The story that is generally accepted in the restaurant world is that Caesar Cardini invented the recipe “on the fly” once when the restaurant was packed and he was out of some ingredients. Using ingredients he had on hand in the pantry along with the salad base, and he then prepared the salad at tableside with great flair. Cardini family legend has it that Caesar did not put in anchovy as he didn’t like them. Supposedly, anchovies were added later by a relative.
The salad traditionally is made with smaller whole Romaine leaves from closer to the center of the head, and the leaves were picked up or cut with knife and fork. I make the dressing without egg yolk because I am lazy. However, you can substitute mayonnaise for the egg yolk. Yolk or mayonnaise really does make a much richer dressing that coats the leaves beautifully, but the flavor is still quite good without them.
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon Dijon style mustard
3-4 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 dash Tabasco sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
½ large lemon, juiced (about 2-3 tablespoons)
8-12 ounces olive oil (you may need more or less)
2 heads romaine lettuce, whole pale inner leaves only, or one whole head, damaged outer leaves removed and cut into 1 inch pieces
2 – 3 cups croutons, 1/2 to 3/4 inch square, preferably homemade
3/4 – 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the Dressing:
Make dressing in a bowl large enough to hold all the lettuce. Rub a large bowl firmly with a clove of garlic so you can see oils left behind and the garlic starts to disintegrate. Do this with the second clove as well. It is okay if small bits of garlic left behind.
Add the mustard to the bowl, then add the Worcestershire and Tabasco sauces. Stir to mix.
Add the lemon juice, and whisk vigorously. Add salt and pepper and whisk. Whisk in the oil slowly in a thin, steady stream, whisking all the while. Add enough oil so the dressing is quite thick. Taste for balance. If it is too sharp, add a little more oil.
To Assemble Salad:
Add the lettuce to the dressing and carefully mix so the leaves are evenly coated with dressing.
Add the croutons and toss.
Sprinkle evenly with the cheese, reserving a little for garnishing plates. Toss gently, and serve on plates. Top each salad with a little more cheese. Add fresh ground pepper if desired.
YIELD: Serves 4
Chef’s Tips and Variations:
- If you wish to use egg yolk, use a single yolk for the above ingredients. If you are concerned about salmonella or eating raw egg yolks, boil the egg for 2 minutes and then place it in cold water until cool enough to handle the egg. Break the egg into your hand and separate the white from the yolk. Discard the white and add the yolk to the dressing bowl. Do this before adding the lemon juice, and whisk well to incorporate the flavors. Proceed as directed above, but keep in mind you will need less oil to thicken the dressing-perhaps as little as 6 ounces. Taste to determine.
- If you want a thick version like you get with egg yolk but don’t want to fuss as much, you can substitute 1-2 tablespoons mayonnaise for the yolk, following the instructions for the egg yolk version above.
- If you want to do the anchovy version, I recommend you use anchovy paste for uniformity. 1 teaspoon of paste or 4 fillets of anchovy should do it for this recipe. Add the paste with the mustard, or if using fillets, add them before the mustard and use a fork to smash the fillets to a paste in the bowl. Proceed as above.
- If you use egg yolk, use the dressing within the hour. The mayo version will keep a couple days the refrigerator.