A Controversial Classic — Caesar Salad

Well, that was a nice little break eh?  All the holiday hoopla, then a week to catch your breath before we launch right back into decadent, gooey pastries and … oh wait.  It’s January.  Everyone’s on a diet.  Real Food it is.

To be honest, although I love pulling out the stops for a meal like our New Year’s Eve feast, it’s quite a relief to get back to cooking every day food – I crave things that taste clean and are simple to prepare.   Classics that you can turn to again and again without tiring of them.  Like Caesar salad.

This is my mom’s Caesar salad, and it’s the one I grew up with, and the one she is (justly) famous for.  It’s classic, it’s simple, it’s clean, and it’s packed with flavor.  There are more versions of Caesar salad in the world than I can count, ranging from the elegant tableside preparation you can still see at some old school restaurants  (like the Athenaeum, Cal Tech’s faculty club) to the behemoth served with grilled chicken slices at the Cheesecake Factory.  You can also buy premade “Caesar” dressings at the grocery store, which often have added sugar, added preservatives, and in the case of one dressing by Kraft, added bacon.  (While I have no beef with bacon, I wouldn’t necessarily think of it in connection with a Caesar salad).  What constitutes a Caesar salad is hotly contested, but lemon, garlic, parmesan cheese and romaine lettuce are standard.  Raw egg yolk, another traditional ingredient, gives the food police heart palpitations, and then there are the dreaded anchovies, which many people and restaurants omit out of some anchovy fear or some misguided attachment to “authenticity” (the original Caesar salad, invented by Caesar Cardini in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico had no anchovies other than those found in the Worcestershire sauce.

Caesar Salad

Here’s my stance on raw egg yolks:  I buy cage free eggs, I go through them regularly, and nobody in my household is immuno-compromised.  I have never gotten sick from raw eggs eaten at home.  The Salmonella contamination rate for eggs is something close to .005%.  So I use raw egg yolks. This in no way is encouraging you to use raw egg yolks — you’re a grownup, you can make your own decisions and I’m neither a doctor nor a scientist. If you are immunocompromised (I did not eat raw egg yolks when pregnant, for example) or otherwise feel uncomfortable with raw eggs, you can make this with the yolk of an egg that has been coddled (cooked at a fast boil for about 45 seconds).

Caesar Salad

Here’s my stance on anchovies:  Suck it up and eat them.  First of all, any squeamishness probably has more to do with traditional notions of what food is gross than any actual aversion.  Anchovies are salty umami that create marvelous depth and add richness.  Second, anchovies are a health food.   They’re rich in polyunsaturated fats, protein and omega 3 fatty acids.  Because they’re so small, they don’t contain high concentrations of mercury or other nasties that fish higher in the food chain do.   They are also a great source of calcium (because you eat the bones), selenium, a mineral useful in cancer prevention and niacin, a vitamin which helps control cholesterol.  I’m not saying that eating a few anchovies on your Caesar salad is going to make you live forever, but basically, why not work them in wherever you can?  Finally, anchovies are an environmentally friendly choice.  In an era when a trip to the seafood counter is fraught with minefields about overfishing, the method of fishing, the environmental cost of farming, etc., anchovies are plentiful and a relatively uncontroversial choice.  They’re rated “Eco-Best” by the Environmental Defense Fund and are a great way to incorporate all the health benefits of seafood into your diet without also ingesting harmful toxins or damaging the fragile ecosystem of the oceans.

I personally love anchovies, and incorporate extra into my Caesar salad, but if you remain squeamish know that you can leave out the anchovies in the salad part and have them incorporated into the lemony garlicky dressing without too much trauma.

Caesar 4

If I’m going to eat real food, this is where it’s at.

Classic Caesar Salad With Anchovies
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
  • 5 anchovy fillets, divided (I personally prefer the classic canned anchovies to the white ones for Caesar salad)
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice ½ small lemon (I often use a Meyer lemon since they're easily available off our tree)
  • 1 T Worcestershire sauce
  • 2T parmesan cheese + extra for serving
  • 4 T olive oil
  1. heads romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into bite sized pieces (if you don't have a salad spinner because it takes up WAY too much space, you can put the washed leaves into a large tea towel and whirl it around a few times. This works surprisingly well.)
  2. Croutons (sometimes I omit these altogether, sometimes I use Snapea Crisps which we always have due to having a toddler, and sometimes I make my own. If you'd like to make your own, Alice over at Savory Sweet Life just posted a recipe for homemade croutons, though usually I just heat some fresh garlic in the oil instead of using powdered.
  3. In a small chopper, a blender, a small bowl with an immersion blender or I suppose a mortar and pestle if you're Amish, combine 3 anchovy fillets, the 2 T parmesan cheese, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and egg yolk. Blend until all ingredients are smooth and combined.
  4. Chop up remaining anchovies into small pieces, and toss in a large bowl with romaine and croutons. Add dressing and toss until lettuce is evenly coated. Grate additional parmesan cheese -- about 3 T of grated cheese -- over the top and serve.


17 comments to A Controversial Classic — Caesar Salad

  • Mmmm – there is nothing I love more than Caesar salad. And I am a HUGE anchovy fan. Got that from my dad, who ordered extra anchovies on almost everything. Whenever my kids see me putting anchovies on my salad, they say, “Grandpa’s watching, Mom!”

    My younger son loves Caesar salad to the exclusion of all others, so we have it a lot. I’ve been meaning to post my recipe, so thanks for the inspiration. I get around the raw egg yolk issue by adding a few tablespoons of mayonnaise to the dressing to thicken it – above-referenced younger son got salmonella poisoning and almost died at age 2, and although we never identified the actual culprit, we don’t take any chances in our house.

  • Now THIS is a salad I could get excited about! (And I’m trying not to be insanely jealous that you have your own meyer lemon tree.) I love a classic Caesar salad anchovies and all. Looks marvelous.

  • Oh, how I love true caesar salad… the first real-deal caesar dressing I made was a revelation. Thanks for the reminder to get into the caesar groove!

  • Ellie

    It may be a good idea to use a pasteurized egg in your Caesar salad to avoid the risk of getting sick.

  • That salad looks wonderful! Nothing beats a homemade Caesar salad. I’ve actually never made my own dressing so I can’t wait to give this a try, anchovies and all!!

  • I’m a huge fan of how this calls for 5 filets and not 1 or 2 (or 0 :/) like a lot of pansy-assed recipes out there on the net.

  • I love a good Caesar, but never made my own dressing! Thanks–a very authentic recipe–can’t wait to give it a try!

  • Love a good, old-school Caesar Salad, and while I don’t like anchovies, I do cook with them and use them where I can hide them from myself. Love your salad tongs!

  • yummmmm. Caesar salad is the best… but I have to skip the anchovies. They scare me! I make a big batch of Caesar dressing every few weeks so I can whip one up whenever I feel the urge!

  • This sounds like just what the doctor ordered for January – even if it is freezing in NYC.

    I”m still mad at you about the chocolate gingerbread. Now I am totally hooked at the same time that I am trying to lose a little weight.

    Oh well. Please keep the decadent recipes coming. I won’t hold it against you for toooooooo long.

    Happy New Year!

  • I am a total fan of anchovies and 100 percent okay with the raw yolk factor. I agree with you that it’s not for everyone, but it certainly is for me! Thanks for a new caesar recipe to try.

  • i love a good old fashioned caesar salad – a definite yes to anchovies.

  • i love a good old fashioned caesar salad – a definite yes to anchovies!

  • Great article, Kate. There’s nothing like a good classic Caesar.

    RE: anchovies, I believe in giving them a good rinse first to remove some of the salt and extra oil. that usually takes acre of any objections people have.

  • Yum yum yum! You make me want to eat your food RIGHT NOW! Great post!

  • Fred

    Another great variation!! As you said above, there are about a jillion different recipes for this wonder of salads.
    For a difference, try using the entire egg when making yours. The purpose of the egg in the salad was to ensure uniform clinging of the dressing to the lettuce. I use Latino-raised, cage-free eggs here…delicious and healthy. I let my crushed garlic reposoir in the oil for 5 or more daze, then I leave the garlic in the oil when I make the dressing which I only do directly on the lettuce. I eat Caesar salad several times a week, which is good for you, but BAD for your breath!! >;^))

  • Fran O'Connor

    The recipe is great! I use a coddled egg as well. Here’s my problem: how would you make a Caesar for one with no leftovers? Often, there is too much egg leftover or too much lettuce. Thanks for any suggestions.

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