Sunday, 31 August 2014

Caesar Salad




Caesar salad is so common in Canada and the United states (if not all of the western world) and has been a favourite for decades. You can get one just about anywhere. They're so easily found that it's easy to forget how much of a better quality version you can make at home for yourself and whoever you may be entertaining. Caesar salads have a very specific profile for the dressing. Lots of sharp, hit-em-hard flavours that blend together and provide a pleasant and memorable linger on the palate. Washing and chopping romaine lettuce and grating some Parmigiano Reggiano are very simple tasks that just about anybody can do. The secret to success is nailing out a perfect dressing and some sensational croutons to seal the deal. In this post I'll show you just how to produce both.

Let's start with the dressing.


Ingredients
 
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 4 anchovy fillets
  • The juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Add the minced garlic and anchovies with a pinch of salt to a mortar and pestle.






Grind into a fine paste.




Whisk in the lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and egg yolk. 




Once emulsified, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking constantly.




Taste for seasoning and adjust. Refrigerate and consume within 3 days.

 










Yes, there's raw egg in this. If you'd rather not take the chance, then you can substitute the raw egg yolk for a tbsp or so of mayonnaise from a jar. Also, because there are a lot of strong flavours together the dressing tastes better once left for at least a couple of hours. It gives the flavours time to blend and settle.


I know what some of you are thinking, "Bram, I don't like anchovies. Can I omit them?". The answer is no, but I ensure you not to worry. Like you, I am not a huge fan of anchovies on their own. They can have an almost violently salty flavour which is less than charming, let's say. They absolutely work beautifully in this dressing and I promise it will not taste like anchovies. It is used solely as a seasoning rather than a main ingredient. Trust me on this one. Anchovies are an integral ingredient to Caesar dressing. 


Now on with the croutons...

Ingredients

  • stale, crusty bread
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmigiano Reggiano
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Salt
  • Pepper


I wont bother with precise amounts because it really all depends on how much bread you have to use. This is a versatile and easily adaptable component so I encourage you to familiarize yourself with the technique rather than a scaled out recipe. 

I find white bread makes the best croutons. Try to use something crusty like French bread, baguette or ciabatta. It also must be at least one day stale or it won't soak enough of the oil to work. 







Cut your stale bread into even, bite sized cubes. 






Combine in a bowl and lightly coat in olive oil and mix well. Season to taste with salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.








Lay out in an even layer on a baking sheet.





Place in a preheated 400F/204C oven for fifteen minutes or until they become golden brown.


 

Allow to cool before adding to your salad. Any extra croutons you end up with can be stored in an air tight container for 2-3 weeks and enjoyed in any salad, topped on soups or simply snacked on as is.

Croutons are pretty cool because depending on how creative you can be with seasonings, you can take them just about any direction you want and they have many uses. They have the potential to add a rustic, crunchy element to any dish you prepare. Instead of drizzling with olive oil before baking, some people prefer melted butter or some combination of the two. Even though the Caesar salad technically originated in Mexico (true story) I often affiliate it more as a Mediterranean appetizer and for that reason just olive oil makes most sense to me. Feel free to do what you think you'd like most or experiment to figure out what that might be. 

This is probably self explanatory, but since we have our dressing and our croutons ready let's see how to build a Caesar salad. 

Take some romaine lettuce that you've chopped and washed then place in a salad bowl.




Dress the romaine with as little or as much of the dressing as desired. Toss to coat evenly. 




Add some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to the salad.




Add some of the homemade croutons and distribute as you wish.





I personally enjoy my salads with a modest amount of dressing. Especially since the flavours of a fresh, classic Caesar are quite strong and pronounced. You don't need a lot of it. The dressing recipe will yield enough to dress two heads of romaine lettuce which would serve 4-6 people.  

Boom! Now you have a basic Caesar salad! You can enjoy as is or add anything else that you like. A common added ingredient is crumbled bits of bacon. Another popular animal protein accompaniment is grilled chicken breast. In the original photo at the top of this post I added a pan fried chicken breast that I had just pounded flat and lightly coated in olive oil, salt and pepper. After I took the chicken breast out of the pan I doused it in some fresh squeezed lemon juice and allowed it to rest. I also added fresh, chopped chives which I think bring a cohesive, oniony flavour to the salad. 

This is definitely worth treating yourself to. It could be the main star of your meal, a side dish or an appetizer. If you are ever entertaining guests for dinner or even just feeding your family, taking something familiar to everyone and reintroducing it to people in a classic and fresh way really leaves an impression on the one dining and makes you look like an accomplished cook. Over all, this is not a difficult dish to prepare. Though it has the potential to make a difference in your repertoire. 

As with all of my dishes, I encourage you to try this for yourself. Most importantly, have fun with it!

Until next time,

B  

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