THE CAESAR salad is a great actor. It is a team player, never surpassing the main course; a reliable crowd puller; also recognizable, made from trusted ingredients, accessible all year round. It even originated from improvisation.
As the (sometimes contentious) legend goes, the Caesar salad was “invented” in 1924 by Italian-born, Tijuana-based restaurateur Caesar Cardini. Mr Cardini soon found himself out of menu items on a busy holiday weekend. On the fly, he added a special salad of romaine lettuce and croutons, tossed in a dressing of olive oil, garlic, egg, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese. (Legend also goes that anchovies were not an original ingredient, although Worcestershire does contain them.) He served the simple salad with a dash of theatrical flavor, tossing it at length on the table. The Caesar quickly became the signature restaurant of the same name and arguably the world’s most popular salad.
Almost a century later, the salad is still on the menus of restaurants for a long time, certainly because of its simplicity. Still, it shows remarkable range in the hands of chefs like Kevin O’Donnell. Memories of his great-grandfather throwing it at the table inspired Mr. O’Donnell to add a Caesar to the menu at Giusto in Newport, RI. There, the salad becomes seasonal, replacing the usual romaine with a variety of vegetables, depending on the time of year.
His “Caesar of the Season” may include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, artichokes, cauliflower, fava beans, asparagus, leeks, or slopes. mr. O’Donnell makes the dressing with lemon juice, pecorino cheese, anchovies, garlic, egg yolk, olive oil and colatura di alici, the southern Italian anchovy sauce. Toasted breadcrumbs enhance the texture. For home cooks looking for the seasons, he recommends adjusting the dressing accordingly: for firm, crunchy veggies, keep it creamy; for delicate vegetables, lighten it by adding water or reducing the oil.
Chef Alex Stupak goes one step further in New York’s Empellón. As a nod to Caesar’s Mexican roots, he gives sweetbread tacos a garnish of gem lettuce and Caesar dressing. In what he calls a “plausible reimagining” of the dressing, cotija cheese vouches for Parmesan; Maggi Herb Subs for Worcestershire; and hot sauce provides kick. Breaded, fried sweetbreads take over the texture role of the crouton.
At Miami’s Bar Pintxo, Chef Fabian Di Paolo blends Caesar flavor into a classic Spanish snack. His chicken Caesar croquetas have a creamy parmesan-anchovy bechamel interior. Served on crispy lettuce, the croqueta becomes a crouton, with Caesar dressing as a dip.
Mr. Di Paolo recently received the full Caesar treatment near the salad’s point of origin, at a restaurant in Baja California. “It was a real show, from breaking the egg on the side of the bowl to mashing the yolk, anchovies and cheese with a spoon, adding the oil little by little,” he recalls. His croqueta recipe hits all those notes: crispy, creamy, savory and fresh, with a good dose of drama.
Use escarole, endive, radicchio or, best of all, a chicory mix to add a pleasantly bitter edge to the familiar salad. Lemon parsley brightens up the mix and toasted breadcrumbs provide a subtle crunch. The dressing can be kept in the fridge for up to a week.
- 1 small garlic clove, peeled
- 3 salted anchovies, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon colatura di alici or other fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1½ ounces pasteurized egg yolks (or yolks from 2-3 large eggs)
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3 ounces grapeseed oil
- 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 heads of escarole, endive radicchio or a mix of chicory
- 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
For the dressing:
For the salad:
- Make the Caesar dressing: In a food processor, combine garlic, anchovies, colatura di alici, lemon juice, egg yolks, and black pepper and blend until smooth. Run food processor and slowly drizzle with grapeseed and olive oil until mixture is emulsified. Add grated cheeses and mix to combine. Refrigerate until use.
- Make the salad: Heat vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs, garlic, salt and pepper and toast until golden brown for 1-2 minutes. Drain on kitchen paper and reserve.
- Mix chicory with Caesar dressing and season with salt and pepper. In a second bowl, combine parsley leaves, lemon juice and zest, olive oil and shaved Parmigiano Reggiano. Season with salt and pepper and toss gently to prevent the cheese from falling apart too much.
- Top dressed chicory with parsley salad. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs over it. Serve immediately.
In this twist on a Spanish tapa, a crispy coating surrounds a cheesy chicken béchamel; Dipping them in the creamy dressing further enhances the texture experience. The dressing and croquetas can be kept in the fridge for 4 days. Breaded croquetas can be frozen and baked later.
- 1 large egg, soft-boiled for 3 minutes
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 anchovy
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 2 boneless chicken thighs (about ¼ pound)
- Kosher salt
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour plus 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 anchovy, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 2 ½ tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- Black pepper
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 liters of vegetable oil
- 1 head Romaine or little gem lettuce, leaves only
- Parmesan shavings
For the dressing:
For the croquettes:
- Make the dressing: Combine egg, vinegar, and mustard in a blender and blend until smooth. Add anchovies, then slowly add olive oil in a thin, steady stream. Mix until emulsified.
- Mix grated Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Mix until smooth. Refrigerate until needed.
- Make the croquetas: Place the thighs in a medium saucepan. Add chicken stock to cover. (If necessary, place a plate over the thighs to ensure they are submerged.) Season with salt. Bring to a boil and poach until chicken is just cooked through, 12-14 minutes. Let cool in liquid for 8-10 minutes. Remove chicken and cut into small pieces. Save chicken and broth.
- Melt the butter over medium heat. Add flour and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until white roux, about 3 minutes. Gradually add 1¼ cups of reserved stock and continue stirring to form a thick white sauce, about 5 minutes. Add Parmesan cheese, anchovies, and garlic and stir to combine. Let cool slightly, about 3 minutes, then transfer to a food processor and grind until smooth. Add parsley and chopped chicken, blitz again and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight to set.
- When the mixture has hardened, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 12 balls. Wet your hands with cold water to prevent sticking.
- Prepare three bowls for coating: one with 1 cup flour, one with beaten egg, and one with breadcrumbs. Carefully working one at a time, roll the moistened balls in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, so that the croquetas are completely covered in the breadcrumbs. Store in a pan with breadcrumbs until needed.
- Heat vegetable oil in a deep pan over medium heat, or preheat a deep fryer to 350 degrees. Deep-fry croquetas until golden brown, 2-3 minutes. Remove from the oil and drain on kitchen paper.
- Mix the lettuce with a few tablespoons of Caesar dressing to taste. Divide the lettuce between four plates and top each with 3 croquetas. Garnish with Parmesan shavings. Serve the remaining dressing in a small bowl for dipping.
Roasted garlic and Maggi sauce add depth to the dressing, while cotija cheese lends a mild saltiness. The sweetbreads are the star here, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The dressing can be kept in the fridge for up to 4 days. The breaded sweetbreads can be frozen and baked later.
- Make the dressing: Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Place unpeeled garlic cloves in skillet until skin begins to blacken in places, 10 minutes. Let the garlic cloves cool and then peel them.
- Place the garlic in a blender along with the egg yolks, anchovies, cotija cheese, salt, black pepper, vinegar, Maggi and hot sauce. Puree until smooth. With the blender running, slowly drip the oil in a thin stream to emulsify. Refrigerate until needed.
- Make the tacos: Cover the sweetbreads in a bowl with milk. Soak, refrigerated, 12 hours.
- Discard the milk and rinse the thymus under cold running water.
- Place garlic and onion in a pan. Add sweetbreads and enough cold water to submerge them. Bring the water to 140 degrees (below the boiling point) and gently poach the sweetbreads for 2 hours.
- Remove the sweetbreads from the liquid and cool in ice water. Remove any fat residue and peel off as many tendons as possible. Cut sweetbreads into 1-inch nuggets.
- Season the sweetbreads with salt to taste and chipotle powder.
- Place two small bowls next to each other. Beat in one eggs. Add breadcrumbs to another bowl. Dip the sweetbreads in the egg wash and then in the breadcrumbs.
- Heat oil in a pan to 375 degrees. Bake the sweetbreads for 1½-2 minutes until crisp and golden brown. Set aside on a wire rack or paper towel-lined tray and season with salt.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Heat the corn tortillas in the skillet until soft and pliable, about 30 seconds per side.
- Place tortillas on a plate. Top each tortilla with a dollop of Caesar dressing, followed by lettuce and sweetbreads nuggets (about 2 per taco). Dress tacos with a little more dressing and finish with a few drops of hot sauce, a pinch of cotija cheese, and a pinch of chili piquin powder.
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