caesar salad

Chef Phoebe Bright makes Caesar salad, Saturday, during a visit by New York Times photojournalist Doug Mills. (Photo: Doug Mills )

In most restaurants you can find Caesar salad on the menu. People love the crisp freshness of the romaine lettuce, the crunchiness of the croutons and the savoriness of the grated Parmesan. And, of course, that creaminess of that hate-to-love Caesar dressing. I say “hate to love” because while it is a salad and seemingly healthy, Caesar dressing is a bit of a decadent delight.

The kitchen crew here at The Paddle take pride in the making of our Caesar salads. The torn romaine, hand-grated Parmesan and house-made garlic and butter croutons and the dressing are all critical components in perfecting the Caesar salad.

Let’s be frank and admit the obvious: The real success of this particular salad is predicated on the dressing. Folks will either love or hate this dish based initially upon how well the dressing is made. The balance of the garlic, briny anchovies, tart lemons and the barely recognizable hint of Tabasco all need to complement one another. It’s a labor of love to be able to mix these ingredients — and a few others — so the end result is a dressing that immediately makes one take delight in every mouthful.

Which brings me to the question: Who is responsible for the creation of the Caesar dressing? I naturally assumed that it would be some guy named Caesar. Sounded reasonable but I had to do some fact-checking, beginning my research into its history. Well, guess what? I was right! Caesar Cardini, born in 1896, was from the Lago Maggiore region in Italy. In his early 20s, Caesar moved to the United States. He landed in Sacramento where he ran a restaurant. It was on the Fourth of July in 1924 that the Caesar salad was born. Apparently, he got so busy at his restaurant on this particular holiday that his kitchen quickly became depleted of supplies. What to do to satisfy all his guests? He had to become creative so off to the pantry he went. He grabbed whatever he thought would go well together and, on the fly, concocted this bold salad in all its glory. As a finishing touch to add some flair he would make the Caesar for his patrons ala table-side.

When Cardini moved his restaurant to a hotel in Hollywood, the Caesar Salad became fashionable among the elites and Hollywood celebrities. The hotel, built in 1929, was later named Hotel Caesar’s. He went on to trademark his special dressing in 1948.

I have only had the salad made for me once table side. Although it was certainly a great show for me, as well as all the other patrons in the house, it’s my opinion that it is quite a pain-in-the-butt for the one executing the meal. As time has gone on, you very rarely see this pretentious display of making Caesar salads at one’s table.

But what hasn’t changed with time is the debate of how exactly the dressing should be made. Some chefs use raw eggs, while others have concerns of salmonella bacteria. (These folks will omit the eggs all together to make their own creamy vinaigrette.) Some, like Cardini, don’t use anchovies substituting Worcestershire. Of course, there is always the debate over too much or too little garlic. Also, there are the two questions of whether to use extra virgin olive oil or canola … or anchovies (hairy fish, as I like to call them) or anchovy paste. It’s all a balance, a dance with the blender. That particular noise that we cooks all strain our ear to hear while slowly emulsifying the oil with the other ingredients.

Caesar salad can be so much more than just a salad. One can top it off with chicken or beef. Others prefer crab cakes, shrimp or even salmon. Whatever your fancy, draped with your favorite protein or just naked, the Caesar salad is loved by most. It is a great year-round, all-occasion dish. Even though there will be some debate over the true inventor of the dressing Julia Child, the Goddess of Cuisine, said she remembered as a child having Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant in the 1920s. That is proof enough for me that Caesar Cardini is the true creator of the dressing. After all, if it’s good enough for Julia, it’s certainly good enough for me. To quote my favorite and all-inspiring chef: “Bon appetit!”

Mandy Hotchkiss and Phoebe Bright are co-owners of the Blue Paddle Bistro in South Hero.

Caesar Dressing

  • 4 to 5 anchovies
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic
  • Few dashes of Tabasco
  • Few dashes of balsamic vinegar
  • Juice of two whole lemons
  • 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

Blend all the above ingredients minus the oil.

After the ingredients are blended together, slowly add the canola oil to make a nice creamy Caesar dressing.

Remember the Caesar dressing is unique to the person making it. You may want to add or omit certain ingredients to make it your own.

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