History of the Caesar Salad (Plus the Best-of-All-Worlds Recipe)
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 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, which ultimately led to enormous success. Essentially, the world loves a cool success story.
So I have no qualms about presenting this article, which includes my own recipe. The thing that will make it of interest to readers is 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.
Brief History: 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, 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 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 claimed 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. Which makes the point, 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 yoke, another fresh egg yoke, one dry mustard, another spicy Creole mustard. Red wine vinegar or sherry? One anchovy or two anchovies?
I personally witnessed the salad 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.
- 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 you can use 2 teaspoons of a 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
- Tear the Romaine lettuce into bite-size pieces. Refrigerate the bowl of lettuce.
- Using the back of a fork, mash garlic and anchovies to 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 sauce is thick, creamy, and smooth.
- 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. Bake at 375 degrees until crispy.
- Take the bowl of lettuce out of the fridge and add the Caesar sauce and grated Parmesan. Toss the salad until thoroughly mixed. Add croutons.
- Serve the salad on plates or in bowls, topping with additional grated Parmesan.
Buon Appetito! And thank you for reading my article.