Let’s learn how to make caesar salad dressing!
While many associate Caesar Salads with Italy, they were actually invented in Mexico by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini. Julia Child popularized the recipe. This version is my own, and is something of an amalgam of the best ones I’ve tried.
6 anchovy filets, packed in oil, and drained.
2 medium garlic cloves
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard (Amora makes the best!)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
2 ounces finely grated Parmesan (about 1 cup)
Freshly ground black pepper & Kosher salt
3 romaine hearts, leaves separated
Couple dashes of smoked chipotle tobasco
Garlic Parmesan Seasoned Croutons (click for ingredients and recipe)
Here’s how to make caesar salad dressing, which is really the source of the salad’s rich flavor.
You can make the dressing while the garlic croutons are baking.
Chop together the anchovy fillets, garlic, and a pinch of salt. Use the side of a knife blade to mash into a paste, then scrape into a medium bowl.
Whisk in egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and mustard.
Now it’s time to add the oil to create an emulsion. Technically, caesar dressing is a form of moyonnaise.
You want to gradually whisk in the olive oil, adding drop by drop. When all the olive oil is in, add the Canola oil, again, drop by drop. Whisk until it is thick and glossy.
Next, whisk in Parmesan. Season with salt, pepper, a few dashes of the chipotle tobasco, and add more lemon juice to taste.
Find whisking tedious? So do I. So, I pull out my little food processor instead.
Here’s how that goes (same order as above):
- Drop the anchovy filets, peeled garlic cloves, and salt in. Zap!
- Add the egg yolks, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, and mustard. Zap!
- Now, you have to add the oil gradually while continuing to zap the food processor. Mine has a pocket in the lid with a little drip hole that’s tailor made for it. Do the olive oil, then the canola.
- Lastly, add Parmesan, zap, and tweak the salt, pepper, chipotle tobasco, and perhaps a little more lemon.
The biggest difference when you make the dressing this way is it will be thicker. Caesar Dressing is basically mayonnaise, and it’ll be that consistency with the food processor. Hand whisking yields a thinner dressing. It doesn’t much matter to me as when I toss the salad, the goal is to coat the leaves and the dressing is spread thinly so you won’t feel that difference thickness in your mouth. You’ll feel the crisp texture of the Romaine lettuce.
Note that you can make the dressing even a day in advance.
Tweaking the Taste
The trick is balancing all the flavors. You want to taste the acid tang of the lemon together with the richness of the anchovy/olive oil/and parmesan mix. If something is missing, play with it.
Dijon Mustard Worcestershire Sauce?
The original recipe popularized by Julia Child used Worcestershire. Sometime after, the Caesar world diverged. Some chefs like Dijon Mustard and some like Worcestershire. If you love Caesar, try both. Hey, trying including both in the same salad and see how that works too.
If you’re going with the Dijon Mustard, I hope you’ll try and use Amora. It’s the best Dijon I’ve ever come across and I have something of a mustard fetish. My good friends Don and Vero found it on one of their many trips to France, fell in love, and brought some back. It’s easy to come by in the Internet age even if your local market can’t help.
What’s all this about Umami? Why it’s one of your 5 taste senses, and the one most recently discovered. The other four (sweet, sour, bitter, and salty) were known for a long time, but Umami wasn’t recongized much in Western Cuisine much until the 80’s. The Japanese first proposed its existence in 1908.
The word “Umami” loosely translates to “pleasant savory taste.” Chemically, it’s all about taste receptors that can respond to Glutamates. Of course we all think (many negatively) of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), when we hear that.
No need to worry about MSG.
Umami is more about a natural taste for compounds that occur naturally in many protein-rich settings. In cooking, Umami is a subtle flavor; more of a sensation than a distinct flavor, actually. It’s function is to balance and round out the overall flavor of a dish.
What I find is it’s an afterburner for an already wonderful taste–it just accelerates it to a whole new level.
Caesar Salad’s are perfect little Umami rockets. Both the anchovies and the Parmesan provide that Umami kick in addition to contributing their other choice flavors.
A Word About Anchovies
While we’re on the subject of Umami and Anchovies, a lot of people are nervous about the little fishies.
They needn’t be. I’m not a huge fan of anchovy strips laid on top of the salad, though they do make it look more interesting. But the anchovy paste is essential. Whatever it is you’re eating, it isn’t Caesar Salad Dressing if there’s no anchovy paste.
In this recipe, the anchovy is pureed away so you can’t see it, and I don’t garnish on top. Perfect for the anchovy sqeamish!
Use whole leaves, and discard the very outmost leaves. You’re trying to keep a good mix of surface area, crispness, and structure.
Use your clean hands to toss the lettuce, croutons, and dressing. Once tossed, use a vegetable peeler to add Parmesan shavings on top.