My dad wasn’t much of a cook. He was an enthusiastic eater, to be sure, but I have few memories of him in front of the stove. He liked to grill (I gave him a ‘Fleischmeister’ oven mitt for his birthday a few years ago), but for the most part he was happy to hang out in the kitchen and watch while other members of the family did the cooking. The exception was on Caesar night. Then, the kitchen was all his. And the results were awesome.
People argue over the way to make a proper Caesar salad. The original version, reportedly created in 1924 at a Tijuana restaurant by an Italian-born Mexican named Caesar Cardini, called for coddled eggs, olive oil, Parmesan and Worcestershire sauce. The latter accounted for the anchovy flavor of the dressing, which has since been replaced or supplemented in a number of recipes by the addition of actual fish. I’ve also seen recipes that call for buttermilk, white wine, parsley, mayonnaise and Tabasco.
The recipe here is for the way my dad made it, the way I like it. It’s acidic from the lemon, fishy from the anchovies, salty from the Parmesan and rich from the egg. You may want to find another version if you are flavor-averse or salmonella-phobic (the egg is basically raw, coddled for barely a minute in simmering water). You’ll be missing out, though; this salad is really, really good. If you need a little convincing about the egg, ask yourself how many times you’ve survived after eating cookie dough. The rest of the salad’s measurements are flexible; you can tone up or down the amount of any of the ingredients. I like mine lemony and abundant in anchovies. After a winter of eating root vegetables, my taste buds are ready for a kick in the pants. Thanks, Dad.
2-3 heads of cleaned romaine lettuce
1 clove garlic
8 anchovies, plus more if you like
Freshly ground pepper
Olive oil (approximately 1/4 cup)
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan, plus additional for sprinkling
Good handful of croutons (can make your own by cutting a few slices of French or Italian bread into cubes, tossing the cubes with a few tablespoons of olive oil and toasting them in a roasting pan in a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes)
Prepare the romaine by removing the dark green outer leaves (you can save these for a different salad). Tear — don’t cut — the remaining pale green inner leaves into approximately one-inch pieces.
Place a saucepan of water on the stove to boil. In the meantime, peel the garlic and cut it in half. Rub a large wooden salad bowl with both halves. Discard the garlic.
Drizzle some oil from the anchovy tin into the bowl. Cut anchovies into small pieces and put aside.
Squeeze the juice of one lemon into the bowl. Use a fork to stir in about 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard, a splash of Worcestershire and some freshly ground pepper.
The water on the stove should be boiling at this point. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the egg (in the shell) and cook for exactly one minute. Remove the egg from the water and crack it into the salad bowl. Whisk with a fork. Add a good drizzle of olive oil, the Parmesan and more pepper. Taste and add more lemon or olive oil if necessary. Add anchovy pieces and croutons, allowing the croutons to sit about 3-5 minutes to absorb some of the dressing and soften to the right consistency.
Add the torn romaine leaves to the bowl and toss so the dressing is evenly distributed. If you are in my family, top with additional whole anchovies. Sprinkle the salad with more freshly grated Parmesan and serve.
Makes three to four servings.