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All hail Caesar Salad

While watching the Academy Awards and deciding who are the best and worst dressed, here is some food for thought. How do you think the celebs were looking at the Hotel Caesars on Revolucion in Tijuana back in the 20s and early 30s? Dashing south of the border to whoop it up, skirting the U.S.’s prohibition, at the birth place of the Caesar salad. I might say that the salad, of all involved, may have very well been the most put together and best dressed at the end of the evening.

Caesar salad is a restaurant staple and, as previously mentioned, has its origins in southern California. Caesar Cardini, an Italian-born Mexican, began operating restaurants in SoCal in the early 1920s. His first in San Diego was in the Kahn building on the corner of Sixth and University from 1923 until 1972, better known today as housing The City Deli.

Cardini operated the sister restaurant in Tijuana so he could sell wine and spirits outside of the United States prohibition laws. The tale goes that when a fourth of July rush had depleted his restaurant of ingredients, Cardini gathered rogue items still available in the kitchen and made the salad table-side to otherwise distract the guests that this house special was in fact a hodge-podge of pantry wallflowers.

These days, the Caesar salad is found with all types of permutations from the original. Chopped romaine, polenta croutons, anchovy fillets, Cotija cheese, a chicken breast or even grilled lettuce. From what I gather, the original Caesar was made of whole leaf hearts of romaine, lightly tossed in a dressing composed of garlic, acids, egg yolks, olive oil and parmesan cheese, served with a coddled egg and supposedly eaten with your fingers.

That is not to say that other variations are not good, just different. As you will see in the recipe, I substitute regular croutons for those made of cornbread and I do love whole anchovy fillets.

So let’s deconstruct the ingredients’ contribution to the full outfit and see how it fares on the red carpet (I guess here, that would be your tongue). The garlic provides a perfume that wafts into each nook of the golden blonde yolk which stretches itself out thin to provide a silky layer for the other flavors to lay against. The dressing begins to glisten after being whisked around a bit with its olive oil counterpart. And the whole ensemble hangs brilliantly on the smooth thin legs of the heart of romaine. Food never sounded so sexy!

As with any tale, there are refutes and other claims as to the origin of the Caesar salad but I like a dramatic story. I entertain myself with an unperturbed idea that the owner himself created the salad amidst a bunch of sloppy drunk celebrities on a busy Fourth of July evening in his restaurant at the Hotel Caesars, Tijuana. Perhaps that night both Caesar Cardini and his inventive salad were, truly, the best dressed.

bobby’s recipe

 

I follow the traditional serving suggestion of using the whole hearts of romaine, with a coddled egg and eating it with your fingers. However, you can stray from the original recipe by using anchovy and cornbread croutons. This recipe will be easier made with a food processor, but a whisk and strong wrist will work just fine.

Serves 6

Dressing

3 crushed cloves of garlic
2 anchovy fillets
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
5 dashes of Tabasco
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan

In a food processor (or using a mortar and pistil), combine the garlic, anchovy fillets, salt and pepper until a paste. Combine this paste (using a whisk if necessary) with the egg yolks, red wine vinegar, Tabasco and lemon juice.

Once combined, slowly add in (emulsify) the olive oil until you have reached the desired consistency. Stir in the Parmesan cheese.

Cornbread croutons

1 3/4 cups cornmeal
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
2 eggs
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper

Sift together the cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Aside whisk together the buttermilk and the eggs. Combine the wet mixture to the dry.

Coat the sides and bottom of an 8 by 8 inch Pyrex (or any other pan with the same volume) with a thin layer of bacon fat or Crisco. Place in the oven until the fat starts to smoke then remove. Pour in the cornbread mixture evenly and bake for 25 minutes (or until otherwise set). Allow to cool. Remove from pan and cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Allow to dry out in a single layer uncovered overnight.

Toss the cubes in the melted butter and olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper (plus any herbs you may desire). Bake in a single layer at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, turning frequently. Once at room temperature, the croutons can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

Assembly

Separate four to five hearts of romaine depending on size and desired salad size. Rinse the leaves and dry thoroughly.

Working in two batches with a large bowl, drizzle the dressing over the romaine heart leaves and gently toss in a circular motion.

Plate the tossed leaves on chilled plates and top with fresh, course-grated, Parmesan cheese and cornbread croutons being sure to reserve a strategically small space for the coddled egg. Be the first to show your dinner companions that the salad should be eaten with their fingers.

To coddle an egg: Bring enough water to the boil that will cover a cracked egg. Reduce the water to a simmer and crack the eggs into the water one at a time, immediately swirling the water around them with a slotted spoon. Coddle only a few eggs at a time so they have plenty of room and won’t break while cooking (probably two batches if doing six). Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon to a shallow bowl after 2-3 minutes depending on your preferred doneness. Again, you don’t want to crowd or break the yolks. Simply slide the eggs out of the shallow bowl atop the prepared salad when ready.

Bobby R. Presents appears in each issue of the San Diego LGBT Weekly. Questions and comments can be sent to bobbyrpresents.blogspot.com.



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Posted by LGBT Weekly on Feb 24, 2011. Filed under Bobby R. Presents. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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