Friday, September 14, 2007

Caesar Salad

I can remember the first time I enjoyed Caesar Salad.

I was at a rather nice restaurant called Island Squire in Middle Island, NY (on Long Island, just east of Coram on Middle Country Road—unfortunately, it's been out of business since the mid-1990s) with Sandra. This had to be after Sandra and I got married (1981) but before 1986. We've always known the Island Squire was better than average; it had great food, and on weekends, they had shows (comedy acts, singers, sometimes a play). Later on, the Island Squire would entrench itself in my wife's family's hearts when her brother Craig was hired there as head Chef.

Anyway, before Craig was chef there, I took Sandra out for a nice dinner. I saw in the menu that they had Caesar Salad that they would prepare table-side. I knew that Sandra loved salads, and that we'd both would enjoy watching them prepare the salad. Sandra was unsure, having never tried Caesar Salad before, but was game to have the experience. My only familiarity with Caesar Salad was that it had Romaine lettuce and was served with some sort of vinaigrette dressing.

Not long after we placed our order, the hostess arrived with a rolling table, and she prepared the salad in front of us. Sandra's reaction to the process was priceless. She watched in dismay when the hostess added a raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and then--horror of horrors--anchovies and yellow mustard. I knew that none of the ingredients I mentioned are things that Sandra enjoys, so I was worried that I'd be eating a "salad for two" by myself. To be fair, there were other things added that we both would definitely enjoy, like garlic, Parmesan cheese, and croutons, but it was those "other ingredients" that had us worried.

When the hostess put generous portions of salad on Sandra's plate, my wife surprised me by trying a bit. Her face brightened up considerably, and in record time, she finished it. Sandra truly enjoyed it!

It was weird; all those things that Sandra didn't like, when mixed together, became a tasty salad!

Not long afterward, I took one of our wedding presents that we received but never used--a wooden salad bowl given to us by Don Verity, my boss when I got married--and reproduced the salad from memory using the same basic ingredients used by the hostess at the Island Squire. Wonder of wonder... my first attempt came out nicely!

I've read that the salad originated in Mexico, either at a hotel in Mexico City or by somebody named "Caesar," but it's now an American tradition. Today, Caesar Salad is one of the more popular salads you'll find on a restaurant menu. You won't find too many places that prepare it table-side like they did at the Island Squire (the only place in New England where we've had it prepared this way was the Prince Grotto, which was run by the now-closed Prince Spaghetti company in Lowell, MA), but you can find it augmented with grilled chicken, shrimp, or other bits of meat to make it into a single meal.

The following recipe is reproduced from one that appeared in the Nashua Telegraph by Marc Bouchon.

Caesar Salad

Source:Marc Bouchard, Nashua Telegraph, August 22, 2007

4 large garlic cloves

2 cups French baguette slices, cut up into ½-inch cubes

3 tablespoons , plus ⅓ cup virgin olive oil


2 flat anchovies packed in oil (save the oil)

3 tablespoons pasteurized eggs (or 1 large fresh egg)

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

Freshly ground pepper

2 medium heads Romaine lettuce, trimmed and washed

⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush 2 garlic cloves with the side of a knife or with a garlic press. Slice up the baguette, and cut them into ½-inch cubes.

Combine the garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil, a pinch of salt and the bread cubes in a bowl. Mix until cubes are coated evenly. Spread the coated cubes onto a baking sheet, and bake until the croutons are golden. This should take about 10 minutes.

Crush and mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves. Mince the anchovies to make 11/2 teaspoons paste.

Mix the minced garlic, anchovy paste, any reserved anchovy oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and mustard in a bowl. Add a healthy pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Whisk until smooth.

Slowly add the remaining ⅓ cup olive oil in a steady stream while constantly whisking again until smooth. Taste the dressing, and add additional ingredients to suit your taste. (Taste hint: If the dressing needs a little extra acid, try 1 or 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar.)

Tear the romaine lettuce into 1- to 2-inch pieces and add them to a large bowl, wooden if you have one. Add half the dressing, toss, add remaining dressing, Parmesan cheese and croutons, and toss again. Serve on chilled plates.

OPTIONAL: Garnish the plates with slices of lemon, slivers of anchovies, extra croutons or toasted pieces of French baguette. Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese makes a nice finishing touch on top.

TIP: Make this dressing in larger batches and refrigerate it for later use. It will keep for up to a week if properly made.

Marc Bouchard of Hudson is executive chef at Stellina Restaurant in Watertown, Mass. Address comments or questions to him c/o Lifestyles, The Telegraph, P.O. Box 1008, Nashua, NH 03061.

Bon Appetit!

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