Cafe Reviews

An Homage to the Classic Caesar Salad

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The joy in a good Caesar is the combination of texture and taste and, for those of us who love all things salty, the pleasure of eating anchovies with cheese (a combination verboten in Italian cuisine). This staple salad is the invention of restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who reportedly tossed the dressing's ingredients together on a whim in 1924 after his Tijuana restaurant ran out of traditional salad fixings. A well-made Caesar involves whole leaves of romaine dressed with oil, garlic, lemon, anchovy paste (or Worcestershire sauce, made from anchovies) and either raw or coddled egg. (I've been known to whisk in a dollop of Dijon mustard when making my own Caesar dressing.) The best among them are topped with anchovies, homemade croutons, and one or more grated or shaved hard cheeses.

Preparation is everything: Garlic is first rubbed into the perimeter of a large wooden mixing bowl, into which the ingredients go, one at a time. Dried leaves of romaine lettuce are slowly tossed into the dressing, and the finished mélange -- and this part is imperative -- must be served on a chilled plate.

If I come to your restaurant and order a Caesar salad, I am there to judge you. Does your chef tear his romaine or serve it whole-leaf? Does he offer anchovies on top? How cold is his salad plate? While there are many ways to prepare this classic salad, there's really only one way to do it right: by the book, without adornment or additions.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela