TERENCE JANERICCO COOKING CLASSES
42 FAYETTE STREET
BOSTON, MA 02116
P.O.BOX 226, HERRICK BAY, BROOKLIN, ME, 04616
CAESAR SALAD JAMES BEARD
I like Caesar salad when it is properly made, but I am often disappointed by the “versions” of many restaurants--large and small, grand or simple. There are dozens of stories of how the salad was created. Even my friend Julia got sucked into making a definitive statement about who created it. The few things that seem to be certain are that it was created in Southern California or Tijuana by a restaurateur who wanted to show off. It could be quite a performance. Table captains would wheel a cart to your table with the ingredients laid out. He would squeeze lemons and toss ingredients with élan. Regrettably, after cooks decided that food had to be kept in the kitchen, and restaurant owners found it cheaper to hire “Hello my name is Tiffany” people instead of trained waiters, the cooks took to trying to ‘trick” it up. (Male or female, the correct word is waiter, not wait person, wait staff [ is that a stick to crack open your skull]? Just think of Tiger).
Cooks seem to feel it necessary to change a classic no matter how bad the result. In New York, one chef is suing her former sous-chef for using “her” recipe. Her secret is English muffins for croutons. It would be like my suing you because you made chicken stock and used baby carrots, as I did, instead of cutting up larger carrots. I think the chef needs to get over herself. But more importantly she should learn what a Caesar salad is.
Presentation often dictates the result. At one Boston restaurant I was presented with a long oval plate. There was a slice of toasted sourdough bread that could easily chip a tooth. On top of that was half a heart of romaine lettuce laid out like a corpse which was graced with a couple of anchovy fillets. I asked the waiter where the dressing was and he said under the toast. It is a salad; salads need to be mixed with the dressing not sit on top of it.
I have had leftover foccacia, rolls, even rye bread! Served as croutons. Often they are so dry and stale you could use them in heavy construction. The lettuce is left whole or torn into huge chunks that must be cut to be consumed. The dressing thick, and covered with enough really bad imitation Parmesan cheese you cannot taste anything else. The waiter almost always asks if want anchovies!!! That is like asking if you want beef in your steak tartar.
Caesar salad is about a wonderful combination of flavors; that means anchovies. Not poor quality anchovies dumped on the top but chopped and incorporated so you get the flavor in small amounts to complement the other ingredients not to overwhelm them.
Below is my favorite recipe for Caesar salad. It has all the flavors combined beautifully, for a luscious dish. However before you scroll there, here are some suggestions on creating decent edible salads. These hints apply to most salads.
For Caesar Salad you need croutons: Forget all the fancy bread options. Use good day-old baguette or Italian loaf, or a good quality American sandwich loaf. If you do not make your own bread , Pepperidge Farm “Original” or “Toasting White” are delicious choices. Discard the crusts and cut the inside center into ½ inch squares. In a skillet heat the garlic cloves and bread cubes (leave any crumbs on the counter) in a good, but not extra virgin, olive oil with the butter over medium heat. Sauté the bread until golden, stirring occasionally, toast all sides a lovely golden brown. Do not have the heat too high. This will take about 5 minutes. Discard the garlic cloves as they turn brown and before they burn. Remove the croutons to a paper towel as they brown to drain. They can be made earlier in the day, but are best if made shortly before preparing the salad. These will provide a crouton that will be crispy on the outside, but still tender enough to absorb some of the dressing. You can reheat them in a warm oven shortly before serving, if made hours ahead. They can be barely warm, not hot when you add them to the salad.
Next prepare the lettuce. In the past knives were made from carbon steel and the metal reacted with the lettuces darkening the cut edges. To avoid that problem we would gently tear the greens into bite-sized pieces. Unfortunately most people grab the head and wrench large portions of the greens as if they were wringing out and old sock. The greens are bruised and the pieces are usually too large to eat. Today most good knives have enough stainless steel so they will not discolor the lettuce. You can cut the lettuce without bruising it and into bite-sized pieces.
Romaine lettuce is the green for a Caesar salad. Nothing else will do: Its crisp cool crunch contrasts with the other ingredients to make a perfect combination. Romaine can be quite wide as well as quite long. Preferably you will