It was the first vegetable salad that I truly appreciated. The emulsified dressing the coats the lettuce, the sheer amount of cheese and, in contrast, the crunch of the croutons.
But toss the same ingredients together and dress them with vinaigrette and it’s not Caesar salad anymore. The dressing defines this salad as much as the salad ingredients and the manner in which the salad is prepared. Caesar salad is made with a signature dressing that, unsurprisingly, is known as Caesar salad dressing.
Where did the salad and the dressing get their name?
Despite myths that it got its name as a result of being the favorite of Julius Caesar, no, that’s not where the name comes from. The salad and the dressing aren’t that old.
When the salad was born isn’t a topic subject to serious debate. It was born in the 1920s — some say 1923; others say 1924. Where the salad was born is not controverted either. Hotel Caesar in Tijuana.
Who exactly invented the salad and the dressing is more controversial. The well accepted story is that Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant, chef and owner of Caesar’s, ran out of ingredients on the Fourth of July of 1923 (or 1924) and made use of what was left in the kitchen. And, so as not to give any inkling that the salad was made from bits and pieces of ingredients, he tossed it tableside to impress the guests. You know… showmanship.
There is another story that says the salad was invented by Caesar’s brother, Alex, an Italian Air Force pilot during World War I, that it was originally called Aviator’s salad, that it was very popular and that it was later renamed Caesar salad.
Does Caesar salad contain anchovies?
It is the second story involving Alex Cardini that fuels the debate as to whether anchovies was an ingredient of the original salad. It is claimed that the Aviator salad contained anchovies (whether in the dressing or in the salad itself isn’t clear) but the ingredient was dropped when it was renamed Caesar salad.
According to Rosa Cardini, Caesar’s daughter, there were no anchovies in the original Caesar salad. And it would be true, I suppose, if we pin its birth at the moment it was renamed. And that, of course, is if we accept the story that the salad was originally invented by Alex.
I doubt we’ll ever know the exact story behind the invention of Caesar salad. Almost a century later, there are so many versions that it’s hard to recorgnize the original. As you continue to ponder the birth and evolution of Caesar salad, here’s a recipe for the dressing.
You don’t need any fancy kitchen equipment to make Caesar salad dressing. Just a wire whisk, a sturdy bowl and plenty of arm power. You’re going to make an emulsion — like mayonnaise — with the egg yolks and oil. So, you will have to whisk fast for about five minutes to achieve the correct consistency.
Caesar Salad Dressing
- Place the anchovies, garlic and salt in a mixing bowl and mash with a fork to make a paste.
- Place the anchovies, garlic, salt, pepper, egg yolks and Dijon mustard.
- Using a wire whisk, mix everything together until creamy in texture, and the anchovies are broken into mere specks.
- With one hand, drizzle in the olive oil, drop by drop at first, while whisking with the other hand to form an emulsion.
- Once your mixture is thick, pour the palm oil in a slow thin stream while continuing to whisk.
- Add the lemon juice and stir until well blended.
- Taste the dressing. Add more salt, pepper or lemon juice, as needed. You don’t want it to be too tangy. You’re aiming for creamy and a bit salty with a subtle but unmistakable tang.
More Cook’s Notes
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