Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hail Caesar and pass the Mayo and Sriracha!

So someone asked me to complete the entry from the other day and talk about Caesar salad. Ok let's talk about Caesar salad.

The Caesar salad is probably the most well known salad in the restaurant world today, well.... within the continental US. There are many types of salads proffered in chain restaurants everywhere in this country now, but the Caesar alone stands as King. American's can't get enough of it. and ever since Caesar Cardini supposedly created it one night on the 4th of July in 1924 when his kitchen ran out of anything else to serve. He served the salad table side to add to it's panache. It became wildly popular and swept the nation. Today everyone serves a Caesar. From the Cheesecake Factory chain out of Hollywood to Applebees, the Caesar is probably the most popular salad. The Cheesecake Factory serves 5 tons of Caesar salads a year, that's a lot of Caesars!

I can still remember as a very little boy having a Caesar salad made table side for the first time at a fancy restaurant in Tampa Florida. The impressive preparation was so theatrical, it was wonderful how the waiter combined all the ingredients into the large wooden bowl and then tossed in those 2 coddled eggs. Then with a few stokes of the wooden spoons created a creamy rich and wonderful sauce that enveloped the crisp romaine leaves. A few crunchy croutons, a generous handful of grated cheese and a few twists of pepper later and presto! He served up a mouthwatering, satisfying, Umami giving, salad that changed the way I looked at lettuce forever!

I think Umami is the best way to describe why a Caesar is so satisfying. It contains at least three maybe four elements that provide that Umami punch. It's a hearty almost meaty taste and it is just so satisfying.

OK, now I have tried to recreate that freshly tossed Caesar experience for years at home. That wonderful moment when the salad is made fresh with the dressing in the bowl from scratch! But truth be told I am just plain lazy sometimes, and just don't feel like coddling eggs or using raw ones. So from scratch the old school way just seemed too tedious. And I  have tried to like bottled Caesar dressing, but I have yet to find a good one! Even the Cardini Family who produces a dressing based on the original recipe can't seem to bring it to the table. So I just decided long ago I wanted to make my own dressing but in an easier way and even hold it in the fridge for later use.

Now from working in catering for years I had gleaned from various chefs that Caesar dressing can be made many ways. And the way around using eggs and the get the dressing to hold easily is to use one of my favorite things in the world, Mayonnaise! ( Hello Eggs and Oil!!) However, getting the rest of the dressing to really be stellar was a bit tricky. I mean I have come to expect a certain taste and consistency from a good Caesar dressing, so starting with the basics of the dressing and building upon them to an even more elevated taste sensation was the goal here. After all I just didn't want just any old Caesar dressing. But the best Caesar dressing I could come up with!

So I experimented and experimented. And whenever I went out somewhere that had an interesting Caesar, I would try to inquire what the ingredients were. I also looked at recipes in my books and online from everyone, trying different things and really seeing what were things that worked and things that did not. For example one thing that never should be in Caesar dressing is soy sauce! (which one famous person suggested) Yuk! However one restaurant I went to had some background taste in their dressing I could not place immediately. Finally after asking I realized I knew the flavor but had not expected it, Sesame Oil!! And Frankie's Sputino NYC. which also had a mayo based dressing gave the the clue to add a little heat by using tabasco. However, I liked the heat idea, but I have grown to love Sriracha sauce so much, that I put in everything now from soups to mac and cheese! So that became my "heat" element. So after much trial and error here is the finished version. If you want to try to make a Caesar salad at home and really impress people with an easy awesome dressing give this a try! Hail Ceasar!

The Best "Caesar" Salad you'll ever want to make!!!


For the Salad: Serves 6 to 8 people

3 large hearts of romaine chopped squarely ( include the white ends almost to the stalk and cut off any bad green ends otherwise use all) and held cold in the fridge
2 1/2 cups croutons ( I like Trader Joe's salad croutons, they taste like homemade but you can make your own or buy your favorite brand)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
1 1/2 tablespoon capers drained

For the dressing:  

6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
splash of caper juice
2 cloves minced garlic
2 anchovies filets ( plus more garnishing for each portion)
1/8 teaspoon Sriracha Sauce
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup Mayo ( I like Dukes brand)
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
3 teaspoons lemon juice

Mash anchovies and garlic into a  really creamy fine paste on the bottom of a large salad bowl ( Wooden if possible).
Add the Mayo then the liquid ingredients whisking vigorously till smooth and combined.
Add cheese and pepper and stir till combined and smooth. If too thick add more water a teaspoon at a time. ( At this point you could hold the dressing in the fridge for later use. You can also increase the quantity to make more to have on hand. It lasts a least 1 to 2 weeks in the fridge.)

Place dressing in the bottom of the serving bowl if you did not use it to make the dressing.
Place Chopped lettuce, croutons, cheese and capers in the bowl and toss together till coated. Serve immediately!

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