Crispy Romaine, toasted croutons, and a satiny, garlicky dressing are the key elements of a perfect Caesar salad. There are many variations – raw eggs or not, with or without anchovies – but the core elements remain.
When done right, each fork should yield a combination of savory, creamy, spicy, toasty, and crunchy. The vibrant greenery, Parmesan cheese and garlic aromas, and the audible crunch of toasted croutons stimulate all the senses.
Making the perfect Caesar salad at home is easier than you think with simple upgrades like homemade croutons and the creamiest, easiest Caesar dressing. Here’s your surefire recipe for a classic you’ll want to make again and again.
Where was Caesar salad invented?
But first, a little background story. There are a few different origin stories, but the most predominant one begins with Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born restaurateur who, along with his brother Alessandro, emigrated to the US after World War I.
The Cardini brothers ran a restaurant in San Diego until 1920 when Prohibition motivated them to open a second location just across the border in Tijuana to serve alcohol. A thirsty crowd followed.
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According to Caesar’s daughter Rosa, he made the salad on July 4, 1924, when the restaurant was packed with American tourists and the kitchen was running out of supplies. Caesar grabbed what he had on hand—lettuce, olive oil, eggs, bread, Parmesan cheese, and Worcestershire sauce—and, for added flair, prepared the salad at the table. Thus an icon was born.
As with all claims to fame, there are disputes. According to some stories, Caesar’s brother Alessandro (“Alex”) invented the iconic salad. That story claims that Alex, an Italian pilot during World War I, made the salad for a group of American pilots traveling down from Rockwell Field military base in San Diego. Alex threw together the same ingredients mentioned above to impress his fellow pilots but added anchovies.
Alex invented the concoction “Aviator’s Salad” in honor of his comrades. This story claims that when Alex left to open his restaurants in Mexico City, Caesar discarded the reference to the kite and named the salad The Caesar.
Yet another story claims it wasn’t Cardini but an 18-year-old restaurant worker named Livio Santini, who got the recipe from his mother.
It doesn’t matter who made the first Caesar salad; I’m just thankful someone did.
And as delicious as restaurant salads are, it’s often worth making one at home.
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What is usually in a Caesar salad?
Is it the dressing? The greens? The croutons? Yes, yes, yes – a great Caesar salad is a mixture of all those things. It is usually made with a creamy garlic and parmesan dressing, crispy romaine lettuce, and crispy croutons.
It sounds simple because it is! But when making a simple dish, it’s all the more important to make every ingredient count.
Which Lettuce Should You Use for Caesar Salad?
Romaine is the classic choice for Caesar.
Peel the outer leaves until you reach the ultra-crispy, light-colored inner leaves, and chop them to the desired size. Save the outer leaves for another use.
What Kind of Croutons Are Used for Caesar Salad?
The best croutons are homemade and so easy you’ll wonder why you didn’t always make them yourself.
Here’s a pro tip: Coat your bread cubes with garlic-infused olive oil instead of fresh garlic. Garlic browns faster than bread, and the small chopped pieces often burn before the bread is completely toasted.
You can buy the specialty oil or make your garlic-infused oil by combining olive oil and minced garlic, then straining the oil through a fine-mesh sieve. Discard the garlic and use the oil for croutons will be scented with garlic, not strewn with charred bits.
Toss the bread with Parmesan cheese before baking to make them even more flavorful. Baked Parmesan takes on a delicious nutty quality, which goes perfectly with the sharpness of the freshly grated cheese used in the dressing and salad.
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How to make Caesar dressing
Skip the bottled stuff and make your dressing.
The base of this dressing is mayonnaise, and since it starts with an “emulsified” ingredient, you don’t have to make your emulsion with raw egg, olive oil, and lemon.
The combination of mayonnaise and Dijon mustard (another emulsifier) keeps the dressing stable and satiny when the olive oil is added.
Why is this important? An emulsion combines two or more liquid ingredients (such as oil and lemon juice) that normally cannot stick together. The liquids can fuse into one smooth mixture when mixed with an emulsifier such as mayo or mustard.
Emulsified dressings are superior because they evenly coat every inch of the lettuce and other ingredients.
One tip regarding oil: try not to use extra virgin olive oil when using an electric blender, as the high speed of the blender can cause the olive oil to break down and become bitter. That said, it should be fine to whip by hand or use a food processor.
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Does Caesar dressing have anchovies?
If you’re not a fan of fish, fear not; traditional Caesar salad has no real anchovies.
That said, the dressing benefits from Worcestershire sauce, which has anchovies, so the little fish will end up in the salad anyway.
Are you an anchovy lover and want more? Place flat anchovy fillets on the salad just before serving.
The perfect recipe for Caesar salad
This classic salad is simple, and since there are not many ingredients in the Caesar salad, it is all the more important that you use quality ingredients as each component has to add a lot to the dish. The results are more than the sum of their parts.
For the croutons:
Three tablespoons good quality olive oil two cloves garlic, chopped½ French baguette, halved lengthwise and cut or torn into bite-sized pieces two tablespoons grated good quality Parmesan cheese
For the dressing:
¼ cup fresh lemon juice, about 1 ½ small lemons or one large lemon two cloves garlic, chopped two tablespoons mayonnaise two teaspoons Dijon mustard one teaspoon Worcestershire sauce Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 cup good quality olive oil if using an electric blender avoid extra-virgin⅓ cup good quality grated parmesan cheese
For the salad:
Three heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed (and reserved for other uses) and inner leaves rinsed, patted dry, and chopped or torn into bite-sized pieces -½ cup good-quality grated Parmesan cheese
Start making your croutons. Preheat oven to 350 F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and minced garlic cloves, then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve to make garlic-infused olive oil. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl, add the infused oil and Parmesan cheese, and toss to combine. Place the croutons on the prepared baking sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and crispy. Set aside. To make the dressing in a food processor or blender, combine lemon juice, garlic, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, ½ teaspoon salt, and ⅛ teaspoon black pepper. Process until blended and smooth. With the food processor or blender running, gradually and slowly add the olive oil. Process until thick and creamy; add the Parmesan cheese and pulse on and off until blended. Season with more salt and black pepper. To assemble the salad, place the lettuce in a large bowl, add about ¼ cup dressing and one cup Parmesan cheese, and toss. Add more sauce and Parmesan cheese if desired. Sprinkle the salad with the croutons and serve with extra sauce. Keep the leftover dressing in the fridge for up to four days.