Despite its imperial name, caesar salad was created in 1920s Mexico to feed the hordes of thirsty Americans forced across the border by prohibition. Wanting to relieve the pressure on his kitchen, restaurateur Caesar Cardini came up with a recipe simple enough to be prepared by his waiters instead. The fact it’s also salty and rich enough to pair perfectly with a cold beer is no doubt mere coincidence.
Prep 15 min, plus infusing time
Cook 15 min
2 garlic cloves
150ml olive oil
4 slices day-old bread, preferably white and chunky
2 anchovy fillets
1 egg yolk
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and ground black pepper
2 cos or romaine lettuces
1 large handful finely grated parmesan or pecorino
1 Flavour the oil
Start by infusing the oil for the dressing. Peel and crush the garlic, either using a press or in a mortar, then mix with the oil and leave to mingle, ideally for an hour or so. If you’re keen to eat immediately, you can bypass this stage, but it gives the finished dish a more mellow flavour, so do make time for it, if you can.
2 Prepare the croutons
At least 20 minutes before you want to eat, heat the oven and a large baking sheet to 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6. Cut the bread into rough, crouton-sized cubes (I like to keep mine quite large). You can use just about any bread you want here, but something fairly robust such as a sourdough will give the crunchiest results.
3 Bake the croutons
Toss the bread cubes in a little of the oil – just enough to coat them, rather than soak them completely – and a pinch of salt (bear in mind that the dressing will be quite salty anyway, thanks to the anchovies), then scatter them over the hot baking sheet, spreading them out well. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden and crisp.
4 Mash the anchovies
Meanwhile, rinse the anchovy fillets if they’re packed in salt (there’s no need to do this for those in oil), then use a fork to mash them to a smooth paste in the bottom of a large salad bowl; if it’s easier, you can do this in a mortar, but scoop them into the serving bowl before moving on to the next step.
5 Add the egg yolk, garlic oil and lemon
Beat in the egg yolk until well combined, then gradually whisk in the remaining garlic oil until you have a thickish dressing, rather like a thin mayonnaise.
Finally, whisk in the lemon juice and taste: season with plenty of roughly ground black pepper and a little salt, if necessary.
6 Prepare the lettuce
Split the lettuces into individual leaves, then wash and dry well in clean tea towels – the dressing will just run off wet leaves, so it’s important not to skip this step. Originally, caesar salad was finger food for drinkers and the leaves were left whole, but if you intend to eat yours with a knife and fork, tear the leaves into rough pieces.
7 Dress the lettuce and add cheese
Add the lettuce to the salad bowl and toss to coat in the dressing (I use my hands, but if you’re vigorous enough, two big spoons or some tongs will also do the job).
Add the grated cheese and toss again, then scatter over the croutons and serve at once, before the bread has time to go soggy.
8 Bulk up with chicken …
Chargrilled chicken is often added to turn this salad into a more substantial dish. Bash two chicken breasts out until fairly flat, then rub with olive oil and season. Heat a griddle pan or greased frying pan until sizzling hot, then fry the chicken for about four minutes on each side, until cooked through. Slice and add to the salad at the same time as the croutons.
9 … or fish or eggs
Chargrilled salmon or white fish also works well in a caesar salad, and large prawns are popular in the States, but my favourite topping is warm boiled eggs. Cooked in simmering water for eight minutes and cooled under cold running water, then peeled and quartered, they turn this into a very punchy egg mayonnaise salad.