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History of the Caesar Salad (Plus the Best-of-All-Worlds Recipe)

Virginia Billeaud Anderson writes about the interesting food and booze she encounters at home and on her travels.

Caesar salad with croutons and grated Parmesan

Caesar salad with croutons and grated Parmesan

Another Article About Caesar Salad?

You might think that the last thing the world needs is another article about the history of the Caesar salad. A very popular topic among food writers, this particular salad and its origins have been covered extensively. In fact, you’ll find multiple articles related to it on this very website.

What makes the story so popular? Even if the folklore surrounding the invention of the salad is somewhat fabricated or embellished, it narrates an interesting innovation in cuisine—one that ultimately became enormously successful. Essentially, the world loves a cool success story.

I have no qualms about presenting this article, which includes my own recipe. The thing that will make it of interest to readers is that I scanned many different recipes, including some from very prominent venues, such as Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans, and I condensed the best features of all of those recipes into this one.

A Brief History and a Great Success Story

Naturally, I'd like to include a brief history of the Caesar because it’s a great story. Here are the basics: Italian immigrant to America, Caesar Cardini, invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar’s in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. Caesar and his brother Alex Cardini opened their restaurant in Tijuana after American Prohibition laws disrupted their businesses in California. According to folklore, when he found himself lacking ingredients for more elaborate dishes, Caesar concocted the recipe, and in a theatrical manner, tossed the salad at his customers’ tables to entertain them.

The salad’s fame soon spread. When he left Mexico in 1936, Cardini brought his salad to California, and Hollywood celebrities took notice. More publicity came in 1946 when newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote about the salad after it spread to New York City. Celebrity chef Julia Child chimed in to say she had eaten a Caesar salad at Cardini’s restaurant when she was a child in the 1920s.

In the entrepreneurial spirit, Cardini began to manufacture and sell bottled “Caesar” salad dressing in 1948. Cardini’s daughter Rosa Cardini expanded the business, which was sold for millions of dollars. Today, many food companies sell a version of a Caesar salad dressing.

Although the original Caesar recipe is debated among foodies, Rosa claims her father never added anchovies to his salad. Anchovy flavor entered her father’s salad, she claimed, by way of Lea and Perrin Worcestershire sauce. For most cooks, however, anchovies are a vital ingredient. These days, there are many versions of the Caesar Salad recipe, although the differences can be very slight. One cook uses a wooden bowl, another a metallic mixing bowl; one uses “coddled” egg yolk, another fresh egg yolk; one uses dry mustard, another spicy Creole mustard. Red wine vinegar or sherry? One anchovy or two anchovies?

I personally noticed that the salad seemed to be a popular item in upscale Mexico City restaurants in the 1980s. And I can attest to the fact that you won’t find the salad in exactly this form in Italy. The following recipe contains the finest aspects of the Caesar salad tradition.

Some of the ingredients for a Caesar salad

Some of the ingredients for a Caesar salad

Ingredients

  • 3 romaine hearts, tender-crisp lettuce leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cups Italian or French bread torn into approximately 1” size
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 2 anchovy filets, chopped finely
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard (or 2 teaspoons of seasoned mustard, such as Grey Poupon seasoned mustard)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 egg yolks, at room temperature (or you can coddle egg yolks by boiling in the shell for 1 minute)
  • 5 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Tear the Romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate the bowl of lettuce.
  2. Using the back of a fork, mash garlic and anchovies into a paste. Gradually pour in olive oil while whisking. Add pepper, salt, egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and red wine vinegar. Continue to whisk until the sauce is thick, creamy, and smooth.
  3. To make the croutons, pour olive oil over the pieces of bread and mix. It works well to use your hand. Place the oil-coated pieces of bread on a baking sheet. Add salt and minced garlic to the bread and bake at 375 degrees until crispy.
  4. Take the bowl of lettuce out of the fridge and add the Caesar sauce and grated Parmesan. Toss the salad until thoroughly mixed then add the croutons.
  5. Serve the salad on plates or in bowls and top with additional grated Parmesan. Buon Appetit! Thank you for reading my article.

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 10, 2020:

He uses a recipe for the Caesar salad dressing from Rachel Ray. It is great! You can find it online.

Virginia Billeaud Anderson (author) from Houston, Texas on October 09, 2019:

Hi Peggy, thank you for writing. Would love to hear what adds creamy consistency to the sauce, when there is no egg.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 08, 2019:

It is always interesting learning the history behind such a dish as this. Ordering a Caesar salad in a fine dining establishment in past years was always a production done tableside. My hubby became quite adept at producing Caesar salads when I had a huge garden in Wisconsin many years ago and I was growing many types of lettuce including Romaine. He now uses a recipe that does not call for egg and it is good.