Martin's Intergalactic Gastronomy

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Caesar Salad was invented in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1920's, and has become one of those dishes for which everyone has their own certain way. In my book, some elements are essential if you're going to call it a Caesar Salad.

It must be noted that the concept of a "Caesar Salad Dressing" is anathema. Caesar Salad is a certain treatment for romaine lettuce, and you can't separate out the "dressing" from the dish. In general, the concept of a "salad dressing" as apart from what it goes on is one of countless bastardizations concocted by the US food industry. I'll get off that soapbox now.

I've yet to find a restaurant these day that's willing to do this dish right, meaning with a raw egg. More on that below. So you see: you've got to make it yourself if you're going to enjoy a real Caesar. Lucky you; now you can.

I'll give the procedure, then offer some comments on the ingredients afterward.


The day before you're going to serve, measure out 1/2 cup of olive oil into a glass container. Take one large clove garlic, slice it fine, and add it to the oil. Cover loosely and let stand out over night.

The next day, make the croutons: cube four or five slices good bread, preferably a bit stale. Take your heaviest pan or griddle, pour out about three tablespoon of the garlicky oil into it, and put it over LOW heat. Add the bread, toss it well right away, and let the croutons achieve a nice golden brown, stirring occasionally. This will take 10-15 minutes. Watch carefully, as these can go from just right to too dark very quickly.

Take a large head or two small heads of romaine lettuce, wash and dry it well, tear it into largish pieces, and put it in your salad bowl.

Give the lettuce a good sprinkling of salt, and several grinds from your pepper mill. Sprinkle over it about three tablespoons of white wine vinegar. The pour the remaining garlickly oil over it.

Open a can of flat fillets of anchovies, drain it well, roughly chop the fillets, and add them to the bowl.

Take a fresh egg, break it into a small bowl, and give it a couple of strokes with fork, just enough to mix the white and yolk. Pour it over the salad.

Take a fresh lemon, cut it in half, and squeeze it over the salad. If your lemon is especially big and/or juicy, start with half; you can add more later. You want to achieve the right balance between the creaminess of the egg and the tanginess of the lemon.

Take a piece of Parmesan cheese, and grate about four tablespoons over the salad.

Put your croutons into the bowl. Toss well. Taste a bit of it, and add more lemon if needed. Serve.


The Oil: only olive oil, preferably the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find and afford. With a couple of exceptions, the only oil I allow to touch my salad greens is olive.

The Garlic: fresh, of course.

The Garlic Oil Infusion: I'm not nearly so organized as to always know a day ahead that I'm going to want a Caesar Salad. My shortcut is to put a clove of garlic into a garlic press, press it into the oil, and mix it well with a fork. You won't get the wonderful pervasive-yet-not-overwhemingness of a properly infused oil, but this enables you to indulge sudden Caesar cravings with a small compromise.

The Croutons: if you think those hard cubes that taste like the box they come in are croutons, give it up now. Some bakeries will sell fresh croutons, but you'll still have to brown them in the oil, so that's not much of a time saver.

The Lettuce: this is a bold salad, and only romaine seems to have the body to stand up to it. You could try other greens if you like. But I don't mean iceberg, which is beyond discussion.

The Anchovies: for reasons I've yet to discern, many people just don't take to anchovies. So unless I know all my guests have a clue about the joy of canned fishy things, I will serve the anchovies on the side, to be added according to individual taste.

The Egg: this is the major sticking point for most people. The popular media has convinced the public that you might as well be sticking your tongue into the wall outlet as eating a raw egg. I think it's all nonsense. Sure, there's a chance of salmonella, but you run a greater risk of that any time you eat out. I've eaten countless raw eggs, and have yet to suffer adverse health affects. But do what you think. Apparently food scientist Harold McGee has worked out a procedure for cooking the egg with a microwave, yet retaining it's raw properties; seek that out if you like. But there's no two ways about it: cooking an egg changes the protein structure, and hence the texture. There is no substitute for a raw egg, period.

The Lemon: in case you haven't caught on by now, a fresh lemon only.

The Cheese: if you think the dust that comes in those round green cans has anything to do with cheese, stop reading now. Go buy a piece of fresh Parmesan. Do not have the store grate it; grate it yourself, and only as you need it. Best of all, buy only Parmesan Reggiano. This is authentic Parmesan as defined by the Italian government: the milk must come from cows within a narrowly defined region, it has to be aged for 18 months, etc. You can tell it's authentic because the rind will have "Parmesan Reggiano" tattooed into it in a blue ink. It's expensive in price, but in terms of flavor per dollar, it's quite a bargain. If you're in Cleveland, go to Galucci's, on Euclid at about 64th. They're the ones wholesaling it to all the grocery stores, but they do do retail, so it's much cheaper there. Also an excellent outlet for all your Italian ingredient needs.

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