Thursday, February 25, 2010

Classic Caesar Salad

The weather outside is frightful, but my roasted chicken dinner with Caesar Salad is delightful.  After all of the amazing gourmet experiences I've been having lately, and all of those I'm sure to have on my upcoming trip to Seattle, I felt that a night of cooking comfort food and Olympic watching was in order.  Chicken of course is one of my favorites, but I seldom eat salads, especially in the winter.  The Romaine lettuce was calling out to me at the market this afternoon, so the idea of a Caesar Salad came to mind.  I haven't made it in ages, and I decided it was high time to have one.  I'm glad I did because it was delicious.

There are a couple of accounts of how the Caesar came into existence.  My favorite is that it was invented by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana in the 1920's.  Having run out of ingredients at his popular restaurant, he improvised the salad tableside for his guests.  The best Caesar dressing is made to order and can be amazingly delicious.  I learned how to make the dressing from a wonderful chef years ago during a brief stint at a restaurant that closed shortly after it opened.  What I took away in knowledge could fill a book though.  It was a tremendous learning experience, and now I can make a killer Caesar.  Read on for my recipe...

Classic Caesar Salad
serves 2

1 head of Romaine,  dark green outer leaves removed
1 egg
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 anchovy, finely chopped
1 or 2 dashes of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
the juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup good quality olive oil
salt and pepper

Make the dressing:
  1. Crack the egg into a large bowl and whisk together with mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, anchovy, and lemon juice.  Don't skip the anchovy!
  2. Begin to add the oil, a few drop at a time at first, and whisk until fully incorporated.  Repeat this process until the egg starts to change color.  Then you'll know that it has emulsified with the oil.
  3. Continue to add the oil in a steady stream until the dressing is creamy and thick.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Assemble the Salad:
  1. With a pastry brush, coat the individual leaves of Romaine on one side with a thin layer of the dressing.  The dressing is very flavorful, so don't overdo it or you won't be able to taste the sweet flavor of the Romaine.
  2. Sprinkle each leaf individually with cheese and more fresh pepper.
  3. Plate the dressed leaves nicely on the platter and garnish with croutons if you like.
  4. You'll have extra dressing leftover.  Serve it on the side because you'll probably want more!
Traditionally, Caesars were eaten with the fingers.  If you dress only one side of each leaf, you won't get your hands dirty while you eat it.  Have fun with this simple, elegant, and outrageously delicious salad.  Bon appétit!

With wine:  Caesars go great with most wines because of all of the fat in the dressing.  Oil and eggs tend to coat the palete, so the key is to find a wine that is high in acid.  Typically those from the old world work nicely, red or white, as long as they are not too full bodied.  I'd look for something under 13˚ alcohol.  However, if I had to pick only one wine with a Caesar, I'd choose an Albariño.  I love the bright citrus notes of the wine against the vegetal flavor of the Romaine, and many Albariños have a little spritz of CO2 to them as well, adding to the textural experience of the crunch of the lettuce and the creaminess of the dressing.  I'm a big fan of Burgans and Martin Codax.  They both retail for around $15 and are consistently good from vintage to vintage.

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