Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Original Caesar Salad!

     The Original Caesar Salad!
     There are far more low quality Caesar Salads that are served at restaurants than good ones.  Even so, the flavor is the saving grace of this salad and customers readily accept a bowl of romaine lettuce that is tossed with way too much manufactured Caesar Dressing that came straight out of a jar.  Thick pre-made goop in a bucket that many lower tier restaurants call Caesar Salad Dressing is what the casual dining public has become accustomed too.  
     A big pile of overly seasoned rock hard croutons that come straight out of a bag is another trait of a bad Caesar Salad.  More often than not, customers simply push the jaw breaker croutons aside in the bowl and they nearly always end up in the trash, yet lower tier restaurants continue to serve the low quality manufactured croutons with a Caesar Salad.  It is almost as if the combination of muddy thick Cesar Dressing and rock hard croutons is intended to be sadistic punishment for any guest that dares to order this salad in modern times.   
     When I first apprenticed in French and Italian restaurants over three decades ago, the Caesar Salad was strictly a fine dining item.  Casual restaurants had not yet started marketing this item or the Chicken Caesar, which became a very popular item in the mid 1980's.  In fine dining restaurants, the Caesar Salad was still a table side service item that was prepared to order.  Many of the senior chefs that I worked with started their careers in the 1920's and 1930's.  These chefs stated that the Caesar Salad back in those days was altogether different than the modern chopped romaine lettuce variation that most people know in today's age.  This information was the inspiration for researching the authenticity and originality of the Caesar Salad.       
     There are several stories that claim to describe where Caesar Salad originated.  One famous tale about the origin of the Caesar salad states that this salad was made quickly on a busy night at a restaurant that catered to guests that attended the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games.  The food supply was running low in the restaurant kitchen and the only food items that remained were combined to create the Caesar Salad.  This story is entertaining, but after doing more research it became evident that the original Caesar Salad was invented many years before this event took place.     
     Another story states that an Italian American restaurateur named Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar Salad recipe in the late 1920's while operating a restaurant in Tijuana that catered to the Hollywood elite during the American prohibition era.  This story does have credibility because the ingredients of a Caesar Salad are Italian in origin.  Nobody knows for certain if the Caesar Salad was actually invented by Caesar Cardini, because so much table side salad preparation was being done nationwide by every restaurateur in the early 1900's.  In all likelihood, Caesar Dressing may have been made by many other Italian American restaurateurs for many years, before this dressing was finally given a name.  
     The style of creating a salad dressing to order by the table side to impress guests was a standard practice from the 1890's through the 1930's.  Nearly every fine dining restaurant maitre d', captain or chef did table side salad service back in those days, but tossed chopped lettuce salads were not quite yet en vogue.  Most fine dining restaurant salads in the 1920's were actually served as lettuce wedges, especially when the choice of salad green was romaine.  Long thin romaine lettuce wedges were carefully cut so the leaves were still attached at the stalk end.  Guests held the stem end with fingers and swirled the leafy end of the romaine wedge in the dressing on the plate, then nibbled on the dressed romaine leaves.  The romaine wedge salads during that era were held with fingers when eaten, but of course dining on a wedge salad with a knife and fork was an option too.      
     The original Caesar Dressing was not creamy, heavy or thick.  The original Caesar Dressing had a very light texture and it was golden in color.  This means that the egg yolk and oil emulsion must be created by gently whisking, so it does not turn into a thick Aioli.
     Modern Caesar Salad Dressing does not always contain anchovy paste, simply because many modern chefs make the mistake of cooking with personal taste preferences, rather that respecting culinary integrity.  The umami flavor essence of anchovy is required for an authentic Caesar Dressing, because the name of this salad has a historical reference to ancient Rome, where Garum was used to flavor just about every food item.  Roman Garum is a strong tasting fermented fish sauce.  The use of anchovy paste in classic European cuisine compares to the desirable umami flavor essence that dominated ancient Roman cuisines, therefore anchovy is and always will be an integral ingredient for an authentic Caesar Salad Dressing.
     After doing the research, the originality of the Caesar Salad became evident.  The salad of romaine wedges, light golden color Caesar Dressing and crisp croutons sautéed in olive oil turned out to be the same as the Cesar Salad that the old senior chefs described early in my career.  Tastefully garnishing the salad with integral items was part of the description too.  Today's Original Caesar Salad recipe is authentic.  The research may renew the interest of readers that are tired of settling for bastardized versions of this classic salad at modern restaurants that assume that their clientele will not know the difference.            

     This recipe yields yields 1/2 cup.  (2 portions)
     Add no seasoning to the croutons!  This is the way the croutons were made for the original Caesar Salad recipe.  Only the good olive oil flavor should be tasted.    
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/4 cup of olive oil.
     Add 1/2 cup of 3/8" dice shaped Italian bread pieces.  (Remove the crust first.)
     Stir and sauté till the croutons are crispy and golden color.
     Step 2:  Remove the pan from the heat.
     Use a slotted spoon to remove the croutons from the hot pan and place them on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan.
     Set the croutons aside in a container.     

     Caesar Salad Dressing:
     This recipe yields 2 portions.  (About 2/3 cup)  
     Caesar Dressing was not originally made like a thick emulsion.  Only gently whisk when adding the oil, so the emulsion is light.  Parmigiana Cheese is not added to the dressing, because the cheese is a garnish in the original Caesar Salad recipe.  Lemon juice should be added last, to create a crisp bright flavor.  
     Step 1:  Place 1 large egg yolk in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced garlic.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce.
     Add 2 minced anchovy filets (or 1/2 teaspoon of anchovy paste).
     Add 1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard.
     Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar.
     Add 1 pinch of coarse ground black pepper and sea salt.
     Step 2:  Muddle the ingredients together.
     Let the ingredients stand for 1 minute, so the flavors meld.
     Step 3:  Slowly add 3 tablespoons of virgin olive oil while gently whisking, to create a medium thin emulsion.
     Slowly add 1/4 cup of pomace olive oil while gently whisking.
     The dressing should be medium thin emulsion that has a golden color.
     Step 4:  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice while whisking.
     Set the Caesar Dressing aside or place it in a gooseneck sauce ramekin.  

     The Original Caesar Salad:
     This recipe yields 1 salad entrée.
     Chopped romaine was not how the original caesar salad was made!  Thin wedges of romaine were picked up by the stalk end with fingers and then eaten.
     Step 1:  Place 2 trimmed romaine lettuce wedges on a plate.
     Pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of the Caesar Dressing over the lettuce wedges and onto the plate.
     Step 2:  Sprinkle 3 to 4 tablespoons of the croutons over the lettuce wedges.
     Sprinkle 2 tablespoon of fine grated Parmigiana Cheese over the lettuce.
     Step 3:  Garnish the lettuce wedges with 2 anchovy filets and 4 long thin roasted pimiento strips.
     Garnish the plate with 4 Oil Cured Black Olives and 2 thin lemon wedges.

     Viola!  The original is the best!

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