CAESAR SALAD DAYS
This is a story about choices, creativity, personal power, and a salad. Specifically, the Caesar salad from the 1967 Joy of Cooking.
My mother made it table side at a dinner party in our home during her wilder bachelorette days. It had been an adults only dinner party and though I’d been banished to my bedroom for the evening I’d snuck downstairs for a view of the procedure which I still remember well. I crouched behind a chair in our brightly lit living room and peered into the adjacent dining room which was almost completely dark. I could still make out my mother’s form as she stood in front of a group of unrecognizable guests and ceremoniously cracked an egg into a large wooden salad bowl.
The idea of a salad that was so fancy that it had to be made in a nearly dark table-side ritual intrigued me. I later asked my mother to make it for my brother and I. When I finally tasted it, the splash of the vinegar mixed with the saltiness of the anchovies and Parmesan shocked my system and blew my mind. As I drank the dressing that remained on the plate after the salad was gone, I remember being surprised by the strength of my conviction. I’d found something that I liked that wasn’t based on anyone else’s expectations of me.
Like most children, my life experiences were determined by my parents. I was forced to live where they said, eat what they cooked and experience the chaos of their daily personal dramas without question, or comment. I had very little control over my experience.
Now, for the first time I was becoming aware of my personal taste. This dish… a salad, stood out from everything else. It was something that I enjoyed more than ice cream, or steak, or most of the other dishes I was subjected to.
I was 10 or 11 when I first made the salad myself. I’d found something I could love in a time in my life when I wasn’t having all that much fun. I could follow that recipe and make something for myself that truly enjoyed. I was in control of my own happiness in that regards. I found something that I liked, and I found out how to make it for myself. It was a small, but steady victory.
The dressing is more of a vinaigrette than the fattening, creamy versions found in a lot of restaurants these days. Many people think it’s an Italian salad and it kind of is, but they have the wrong Caesar in mind. It was developed in Tijuana, Mexico by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant. The Joy of Cooking version is a bit different than than Cardini’s original which didn’t contain anchovies and was considerably more eggy.
Over the years I’ve modified it a bit. I found that I really don’t need the raw egg as a binder, though sometimes I do add a splash of Egg Beaters to give the dressing a little more body. I also skip the croutons to keep the carbs down, I add even more healthy Omega3 packed anchovies for protein, and lately I’ve been using a new meyer lemon infused olive oil that I just adore.
I’m now 30 years and 3000 miles away from my Midwestern childhood. My personal taste is a well defined aspect of my personality that I’ve been able to make a nice living from. Can I give all of the credit to a salad? Perhaps.
Here’s my version followed by the 1967 Joy of Cooking original:
Jackie’s Caesar Salad
1 bag of chopped romaine lettuce
1 clove garlic
2T extra virgin olive oil (citrus infused if possible)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 tsp dry mustard
freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2T red wine vinegar
The juice of 1 lemon
splash of Egg Beaters – optional
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
Mash the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and anchovies together in a wooden salad bowl
to make a paste. Add the lettuce and mix well to coat. Add the salt, pepper and
mustard powder. Add the red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and egg if your using
it. Mix well. Toss in the cheese and combine. Serve topped with freshly ground pepper
and more Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Original version from the 1967 edition of Joy of Cooking
For the famous recipe from California leave:
1 clove garlic peeled and sliced
1/2 cup olive oil: none other
for 24 hours.
1 cup cubed French Bread
in 2 tablespoons of the garlic oil, above.
Break into 2″ lengths:
2 heads romaine
Wash and dry well. Place the romaine in a salad bowl. Sprinkle over it:
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
a generous grating of black pepper
(5 fillets of anchovy, cut up small or mashed into a paste, see page 539)
(a few drops of Worcestershire sauce)
3 tablespoons of wine vinegar
and the remaining 6 tablespoons of garlic oil.
Cook gently in simmering water for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or use raw:
Drop the egg from the shell onto the ingredients in the bowl. Squeeze over the egg:
The juice of 1 lemon
Add the croutons, and:
2 to 3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
Toss the salad well. Serve it at once.