Yesterday I posted my weekly Family Dish recipe on the Washington Post food blog, All We Can Eat: Chicken Caesar, a crunchy and refreshing main-dish salad. A tweet with a link to the post was sent out, only to provoke this rather snippy Twitter reply: “Oh come on, no mayo in Caesar, people.”
Yes, it’s true, I do put mayonnaise—just a little—in my Caesar salad dressing. Together with a dollop of mustard it takes the place of the coddled (barely cooked) egg. It’s not the idea of raw, or almost-raw egg that bothers me. I’ve eaten plenty of raw eggs over the years—in mousses and semifreddi and other frozen desserts. When I was little one of my favorite “nourishing” morning treats was egg yolk beaten with sugar and a drop of milk, which my mother or one of my aunts would make on occasion for my sister and me.
But when it comes to Caesar salad, I just don’t care for the slick (slimy, really) way the egg coats the Romaine lettuce. So years ago I devised a dressing recipe that omits the egg. It seems to me that this improvisation is in keeping with the true spirit of Caesar salad anyway. The recipe was created on the fly back in 1924 by restaurateur Caesar Cardini, who owned several establishments in Tijuana, Mexico. He threw the salad together on a busy July 4 weekend at one of his restaurants, after the kitchen ran out of all its other main dish offerings.
At some point, a clever cook added anchovy to the mix. I love anchovies and so I wouldn’t dream of leaving them out, even though they are not part of the “original” recipe. I also put radicchio in my Caesar salad. The red leaves add color, crunch, and a welcome bitter note. I stole this idea from my friend Diane Morgan, who in turn got it from Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana, in Portland.
At our house, we serve Caesar salad in summer as a one-dish dinner, topped with grilled chicken or flank steak.
To read the original Family Dish post click over to All We Can Eat. In the mean time, though, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what’s acceptable in a Caesar salad. Are you for egg or mayo? Anchovies or no? Are you a purist? Or are you for improvisation?
Chicken Caesar Salad (Makes 4 main-dish servings)
Adapted from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style
For the croutons
2 cups cubed Italian bread (about 6 ounces)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
For the dressing
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large clove garlic, pressed through a garlic press
4 best-quality imported Italian or Spanish anchovy fillets in olive oil, coarsely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon of oil from the anchovies
1 tablespoon smooth Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon regular or low-fat mayonnaise
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad
2 heads romaine lettuce or 3 large romaine hearts, washed and torn into large pieces
1 head radicchio di Treviso or radicchio di Chioggia, washed and torn into large pieces
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon (3 to 4 tablespoons)
1 or 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce (about 1 teaspoon)
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 ounce)
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces cooked chicken, such as leftover grilled skinless, boneless chicken breast or skinned rotisserie chicken
For the croutons: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand.
Toss the bread cubes with the oil and pepper on the baking sheet so the cubes are evenly coated. Bake, stirring once or twice, for 15 minutes or until evenly browned and crisp. Let cool to room temperature.
For the dressing: Stir together the salt and garlic in a small bowl to form a paste. Add the anchovies and their oil, the mustard and mayonnaise; whisk to combine. Whisk in the oil in a slow, steady stream, to form a thick and emulsified dressing.
To assemble the salad: Place the lettuce and radicchio leaves in a large mixing bowl. Pour the oil over them and toss to coat evenly.
Pour the lemon juice over the leaves and toss to coat, then add the Worcestershire sauce, cheese and a generous grinding of pepper; toss to combine.
Transfer the salad to a serving bowl. Top with the cooked chicken and croutons and serve.