Considering its popularity, it’s very sad to find so many despicable Caesar Salads floating around the universe. Lifeless little bits of lettuce overwhelmed by a powerfully gummy dressing, dusted with sawdust posing as cheese and garnished with nasty little shards of fish won’t make anybody’s day. We can do better.
There’s a reason why the Caesar, which was invented in a Tijuana hotel in the twenties, was an immediate hit with its glamorous Hollywood clientele. The salad was crisp and refreshing, substantial enough to make a meal, and enormous fun to eat.
The Caesar soon turned into a California classic, provoking a long-standing dispute within the Cardini family as to which brother deserves the credit for it. There has never been any dispute, however, about the fact that Caesar was a happy accident, a last-minute effort to feed hungry customers using whatever happened to be on hand. That included the following:
Romaine lettuce: The original recipe called for only the crisp inner leaves – and very importantly, left them whole.
An egg: it was meant to be coddled for one minute. (I have never understood this; cook an egg for a minute and what you end up with is a warm raw egg.) The egg was then gently broken over the top of the lettuce, which completely changes the nature of the salad, coating each leaf with egg and allowing the cheese (see below) to cling. If you emulsify your egg into the dressing the cheese goes slip-sliding away.
Cheese: Some recipes call for Romano. Sheep’s milk cheese, however, is much too assertive for this gentle salad. Freshly grated Parmesan is perfect; buy the best that you can find and resist the urge to grate until the very last minute.
Garlic: In the 1920s, most Americans suffered from a serious case of garlic fear. The garlic was rubbed onto the salad bowl, and the croutons were lightly infused with garlic, but it was never crushed into the dressing or allowed to bully the other ingredients.
Anchovies: The original recipe did not call for them. The Caesar was meant to be a subtle salad, and the only anchovies in the recipe were found in the Worcestershire sauce that is always included in the recipe.
Lemon: Mexican lemons resemble limes, and there is some question which one should be used. In my experience, both are lovely.
Olive oil: An arcane and hard to find ingredient in the America of the time, olive oil was generally purchased in pharmacies. It is very likely that a neutral oil (safflower, grapeseed or the like), was commonly substituted.
You can play around with the recipe, adding whatever ingredients happen to suit your fancy (I like a small dollop of mustard added to the oil and lemon juice). But if you keep the original recipe in mind, it will result in a much more satisfying salad. Here are the three essential steps to Caesar salad nirvana:
1.Wash, dry and then chill your romaine lettuce leaves really well. Put them in the freezer for about 10 minutes just before you toss the salad. One of the best characteristics of sturdy romaine is how well it holds a cold, refreshing crunch.
2. Make your croutons at the last minute, and toss them into the salad while they’re still warm. When icy leaves collide with warm croutons the effect is extraordinary; you will never want to eat a Caesar any other way.
3. Eat the salad with your fingers. That was how it was originally served – and it makes it taste remarkably better.
The Classic Ceasar Salad
1 head Romaine lettuce
1 clove garlic
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
dash Worcestershire sauce
2 medium organic eggs
1/2 cup frshly grated Parmesan cheese
freshly made croutons (see recipe page TK)
Wash and dry the inside leaves of one large (or 2 small) heads of romaine lettuce. Chill in the freezer for 15 minutes.
Rub the inside of a salad bowl with the clove of garlic. Discard it.
Pour the olive oil into the bottom of the bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice. Add a healthy dash of Worcestershire sauce and whisk again.
Crack the eggs over the lettuce leaves and toss very gently and thoroughly, rolling the leaves around with your hands until each is coated with both the egg and the lemon mixture.
Sprinkle Parmesan on top, add salt and freshly ground pepper and taste for seasoning.
6. Add warm croutons, toss again and serve at once to 4 people.
No, this is not a mail order pizza, but it’s the only photograph I had. And if you’ve got a pizza-lover on your list, they’ll be thrilled to know that they can get the near-legendary Di Fara’s pizza by mail.
If you’re a New Yorker, Di Fara Pizza has been a pilgrimage place for years, a small pizzeria deep in Brooklyn where you’d stand in line for hours. Somehow the Goldbelly people convinced the family to join their roster of regional foods available by mail.
I’ve been shopping with Goldbelly for a long time, seduced by their catalog of great foods from small special places. Their list of barbecue joints is especially impressive, and they have an awesome array of sweets. But the Covid pandemic was their moment: now you can get foods from big deal chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud. And of course, Di Fara pizza, which can still arrive in time for Christmas.
Even if you’re not in the mood to order, just reading through the offerings is a reminder of the many great American foods out there. In a time when you can’t travel, it’s nice to know that they’ll travel to you.
It’s too late to order anything and be sure it will arrive in time for Christmas. Not that I’m sure it much matters in this moment: time has become so elastic.
Still, I thought I’d suggest something small today. A stocking stuffer, if you will.
We’ve all become acquainted with hand sanitizers. Most, in fact, like those gigantic bottles in front of stores, are perfectly horrid. So finding one that you like so much you spray your hands for the pure pleasure of the scent seems fairly momentous.
That’s how I felt about this Coconut and Lemon hand sanitizer gel. I was so dismayed when my local store ran out that I searched for it on line. And discovered the even more appealing sanitizer spray.
It’s not much, but in this strange dark moment it would make a very thoughtful gift for just about anyone.
You don’t naturally think of cheese-makers as being restaurant-dependent, but they are. Restaurants at every level require vast amounts of cheese, from the mozzarella on the pizza to the cheddar in mac and cheese. As for the finest small farmstead cheeses, chefs are often the ones who introduce them to the public.
So cheese-makers are suffering in this pandemic. Many have pivoted to on-line offerings; Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm, makers of fantastic cheeses like Moses Sleeper and Willoughby and is among my favorites. And if you’re going to order cheese as a way of helping out, you can’t do better than their Victory Box. It contains five cheeses from five small family farms.
Victory Cheese is a nationwide movement of dairy people and cheese-makers intent on preserving the American cheese industry. Conceived in the same spirit as the Victory Gardens of World War II, it’s a national movement of cheese-makers in every state. American cheese has come so far and changed so much over the past twenty years; we must preserve it.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am complete and total uni addict. I even have a sea urchin cutter, imported from Japan, just in case I should be lucky enough to find a source for fresh urchins.
Sea urchins come in many flavors. Some favor the prized Hokkaido sea urchins from Japan. Some prefer the Atlantic urchins found off the coast of Maine. But for my money, you can’t beat the rich, sweet, buttery Santa Barbara sea urchin.
If you live in southern California, your best source is the wonderful Stephanie Mutz, who plies her trade in Santa Barbara. These days Stephanie is selling up and down the California coast, but sadly she doesn’t ship. So I’ve been fueling my extremely expensive urchin addiction with occasional splurges at Regalis.
Beware: Regalis is an absolute encyclopedia of luxury foods, and therefore rather dangerous. They sell everything from truffles to high end meats like Iberico ham and exotic produce like fresh wasabi. If you’re in the market for a live 7 or 8 pound red crab from Norway, they will oblige.
And if you’re eager to cut your own sashimi, their crown toro hamachi is the easiest – and least expensive – option I’ve found.
If you have a friend who’s feeling deprived of the luxury foods found in restaurants, they’d be extremely pleased to get a gift from Regalis. And even if you don’t, on dreary afternoons I can think of few more pleasant ways to pass a few minutes than daydreaming at the Regalis Foods website.