When it comes to kitchen routines I’m all for easy (once in a while). There are some perfectly acceptable shortcuts that I’m happy to take – as long as the compromises in quality are kept to a minimum. When I make a tri-tip roast in the oven I don’t always sear the outside first. That’s because (contrary to popular wisdom) searing doesn’t lock in the juices. It does however add a subtle layer of depth and complexity that I find necessary in braised meats. Less so with roasted meats. For me a perfectly acceptable brown crust naturally occurs in roasting. However, when it comes to the swagger of an Old School Caesar Salad there are no shortcuts.
Well, no acceptable shortcuts.
Old School Caesar Salad
That’s because a Caesar Salad, at least a real, true Old School Caesar Salad is classically bold: rich, and tart, and pungent. The more punch the better. An Old School Caesar Salad gets that punch from plenty of dressing. Too many New School Caesar Salads are horribly under-dressed and make too many concessions to modern-day haters. The anchovy-haters, the raw-egg-haters and the homemade-dressing-haters. “Why make it yourself if Wishbone sells it in jar?”
Ugh, it’s no wonder I shun most Caesar Salads these days.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If we shun the phrase “these days” and instead embrace the Caesar Salad of “those days” we can have an Old School Caesar Salad with a good old-fashioned punch in the taste buds. There are just a few old school rules to remember:
The Method: The first rule is to grind the ingredients yourself (with your own two hands). Food processors have a hallowed place in our kitchens. However, when it comes to Guacamole, Pesto and Old School Caesar Salad Dressing, machines make these condiments too mechanical and too perfect. In fact if you use a blender or a food processor with oil and egg yolk you’re likely to end up with Caesar-flavored mayonnaise. When it comes to Old School Caesar Salad Dressing you want it a little rustic and not too creamy. Elbow grease is just right.
The Bowl: An Old School Caesar Salad starts with a wooden bowl. A wooden bowl just as huge as you can find. It shouldn’t be too precious or too smooth or too perfect. It should be a work bowl.
The Cheese: Yeah. The cheese matters. It must be imported Italian Parmigiano Reggiano. If it comes in a green tube it won’t and can’t be an Old School Caesar Salad. In fact it won’t even be edible.
The Garlic: You want really fresh, really sticky, really stinky garlic. Jarred, pickled, pre-peeled or granulated varieties are categorically unacceptable.
The Lettuce: Choose as many whole leaves from the interior of the lettuce as you can. Bigger leaves can be torn into smaller pieces, but not too small. A Caesar Salad is a special event. Big leaves encourage diners to use a knife and fork. Speaking of leaves: baby field greens? arugula? mesclun mix? No. Leave those emaciated, limp little leaves out of the picture. Romaine. Romaine. Romaine.
The Croutons: You’ll notice that I didn’t include an actual recipe for the croutons in this salad. That’s not because croutons are optional. Croutons are the jewels in an Old School Caesar Salad – a delicious excuse to use just a little more dressing. However, I can never decide if I like roughly torn, lightly toasted, still chewy stovetop croutons, or the crunchier, hard-edged baked variety. So choose the croutons you like best. Just don’t choose store-bought.
The Anchovies: Anchovies are the essence of an Old School Caesar Salad. Many people claim to loathe them, refusing any dish with even a whiff. It’s easy for an overwhelmed cook to just leave them out. However, it’s the anchovies that provide the briny blast (and that whole umami thing that makes a Caesar sing).
The Raw Egg: I prefer to use raw egg yolks. I don’t buy pasteurized eggs because I steer clear of mechanized and/or processed foods whenever possible. However, I’m not pregnant or elderly and I do not have a compromised immune system. There are legitimate reasons to avoid raw eggs if you fall into these (and possibly a few other) categories. For everyone else raw eggs shouldn’t be an issue. You’re far more likely to get run over by a car than get sick from raw eggs. But if it makes you feel better to worry about it – go ahead and worry about it. That’s what the marketing folks want you to do.