Years ago, before we became dedicated scratchers, we would try different Caesar salad dressings from the store, but we could never find one with which we were entirely happy. Most were just plain bad: too much salt, too much garlic, too bland, and so on. The least bad of those we tried was supposedly the original Cardini’s Caesar dressing, and we got our Caesar salad fix from that for a number of years. But, one thing bothered us: the ingredients list. We knew that the salad was invented sometime in the 1920s, but the ingredients list had items that wouldn’t have been available. Things like: soybean oil, xanthan gum, corn syrup, caramel color, rosemary extract. This could not be Caesar Cardini’s original recipe.
So, we started trying recipes. We tried some from cookbooks. We searched the Internet for an original version (it turns out there are thousands of so-called original versions, all different, so that seemed like a lost cause), but we eventually hit upon one that we liked well enough to be our go-to version. We did change it slightly, but you can see the original at the Reluctant Gourmet.
Makes 2-3 large salads.
First and foremost, you will be using a raw egg. If you have doubts about the safety of your egg source, please consider coddling it — we’ll tell you how below. We don’t bother, because we know exactly who raises the hens that lay our eggs, and how the hens are treated and the conditions in which they live, so we trust our eggs. Second, this is a fresh salad, so use fresh ingredients: fresh lemon juice, fresh garlic, freshly- grated cheese. It will make a difference. Third, we make the croutons; you should, too. It’s not hard, and, for a salad that eats more like a meal, it’s worth it.
Procedure in detail:
For the croutons.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Crush garlic. Even though you minced the garlic, we find it works best to give it an extra crushing or mashing, so, in a small bowl, combine the garlic, salt, and pepper and smash the garlic into a paste with the back of a spoon.
Add oil. Pour the olive oil over the garlic and stir to combine.
Coat bread. Toss the bread cubes in the olive oil mixture until coated.
Bake. Transfer the croutons to a baking dish and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the croutons are crisp.
Cool. Let croutons cool on the baking dish.
For the salad.
Crush garlic and capers. As with the croutons, we like to make sure that garlic and capers are crushed into a paste. It really helps to distribute the flavors through the dressing. In a medium bowl, place garlic, capers, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Then using the back of a spoon or a fork, try to mash everything into a liquid-y paste.
Coddle egg (optional). Bring a saucepan full of water to a full boil. With a slotted spoon, lower the egg into the boiling water. Leave in boiling water for 60 seconds — no longer — then remove and cool in cold water.
Add egg. Crack the egg into the liquid-y mixture and whisk until well combined.
Add oil. Here’s the somewhat tricky part, but, don’t worry; you can do it. We’re going to whisk the oil into the liquids. Start whisking with abandon and add a few drops of olive oil. Whisk those in, then add a few more. Keep doing this, and, with each addition, incorporate a bit more oil. Before you know it, you’ll have a perfect dressing.
Assemble. Place the lettuce in large bowls, top with those delicious scratched croutons, pour your freshly-made dressing over the top, and finish with a generous helping of Parmesan cheese.
Serve immediately. This is not a salad that holds well, so get it on the table right away. The lettuce gets soggy and limp, otherwise. No one want soggy lettuce in a salad.
As we said above, this is the recipe that we use for making Caesar salad. Yes, we almost always make the croutons, and we always make the dressing by hand. We’ve heard that you can make it in a food processor, but we never do. We prefer the hands- on version because, even with all that smashing of ingredients, the dressing still retains a few pieces of garlic and capers to give it texture. If possible, we like to have this with just a bit of bread on the side, too, so that we can sop up the leftover dressing — it does make a lot, but we always use it all. With the raw egg, we prefer to use it immediately. For those who have never had a freshly-made Caesar salad, try it; the flavors are light-years from salads made using packaged dressings. Five stars.