Hold the Egg, Not the Anchovies: Caesar Salad My Way

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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? 

 

Makes 4 main-dish servings

Chicken Caesar Salad

Adapted from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Italian-Style

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

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.

7 Responses to Hold the Egg, Not the Anchovies: Caesar Salad My Way

  1. Tracy July 19, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Your dressing reminds me of the salad dressing my mom always made when I was growing up. Mayo—I believe it might have been Miracle Whip, a dollop of yellow mustard, a touch of milk and just a sprinkle of sugar. Ah, nostalgia.

    • Domenica July 19, 2011 at 3:29 pm #

      There is something about those nostalgic recipes, Tracy, isn’t there. It doesn’t matter how plain they are; they are always what we crave most. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Barbara | Creative Culinary July 19, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    I’m all for it tasting good so egg/no egg or anchovy/no anchovy…I say whatever floats your boat. I’m more of a purist when it comes to carbonara; if I see a recipe with evaporated milk I think not a carbonara at all!

    • Domenica July 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

      Barb, I am a near-purist when it comes to Carbonara. The only unorthodox addition I make is a touch of cream, just a tiny bit, to insure a creamy non-curdled sauce. I’ve never heard of evaporated milk in carbonara sauce. Yikes!

  3. Fr Peter Nassetta July 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Well….I have always been a “bit” of a purist when it come to Caesar salad because I like to make it with a raw egg yolk….but I definitely love the anchovy too! Bottled Caesar dressings have never worked for me but I rarely make it from scratch because so many are concerned about the raw egg. I have never tried a recipe of yours I didn’t like, so I hope to try this one soon. Of course, you do have your “Double Carbonara” taking it to a whole other level 🙂

    • Domenica July 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm #

      Peter–I am with you on the bottled stuff. No way! I honestly don’t mind raw egg, but I’ve never really liked it in Caesar. Give this version a try and let me know what you think. Cheers

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  1. Chicken Caesar Salad: A refreshing one-dish dinner for summer | ClubEvoo - July 21, 2011

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