Hail, Caesar!


Not Caesar Augustus, but Caesar Cardini, the restauranteur who invented this salad at his establishment in Acapulco, Mexico in the 1920s.  By legend, Cardini ran out of ingredients for a conventional salad at a particularly busy moment and, instead of giving in, he persisted and improvised with whatever the kitchen had on hand.

This included romaine lettuce, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, but no anchovies (those would come later!).  The combination was inspired, and it didn’t take long for Caesar’s salad to cross the border and become a popular item on menus throughout “Golden Age” Hollywood.   Apparently, Julia Child enjoyed the original, when she was a girl and her family dined at Cardini’s hotel restaurant while on vacation in Acapulco.

Today’s recipe takes the classic, including the anchovies that have become an indispensable modern part of the dressing, and has given it a promising twist by lightly toasting the lettuce, and garlic bread too, on the grill.  This imparts a faint char and a subtle smokiness that takes things in an intriguing – and delicious – direction.  This variation, Grilled Caesar Salad, appears in the Cook’s Country Cookbook.

The lettuce’s mildness supports the slightly smoky profile, and the heat softens it a bit, yet it’s the dressing that ties all together triumphantly and makes everything pop.  It’s salty, creamy, tangy and velvety.  A bit like ranch dressing, perhaps, but much more vibrant and alive.  In addition, the dressing is excellent on the garlic bread too, acting almost as a flavorful butter.

By the way, this is definitely a finger-food, making it perfect for summer patio parties.  The lettuce is halved, stem and all, which keeps the leaves together.  A bite or two is taken after applying a fresh spoonful of dressing.  Repeat until gone – and savored,

Caesar Cardini may have been named after one of the Emperors, but the salute belongs to him, and to him only.  His ingenuity, good taste and culinary flair resulted in a simple yet elegant meal that still delights nearly a century later.  Hail Caesar, indeed.

*****

Grilled Caesar Salad

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (*1)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (*2)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 anchovy filets, minced (*3)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

For the salad:

  • 1 12-inch baguette, cut on the bias into 1/2-inch slices
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 3 romaine lettuce heads, 2 or 3 outer leaves removed, then halved lengthwise through core
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (*2)

Combine the minced garlic and lemon juice in a small bowl and let stand for ten minutes.  That done, place the garlic and all dressing ingredients except the olive oil in a blender and pulse for 30 seconds until combined.  With the blender running at low speed, slowly pour in the olive oil until combined.

Heat a grill to high and place the bread slices on the grates.  Cook for one minute per side.  Remove bread to a platter and rub with the garlic clove.

Brush each “uncut” side of the romaine with 1 tablespoon of the dressing and place the lettuce halves on the grill, cut side-down.  After a minute, remove the lettuce to the serving platter.  Pour the remaining dressing into a bowl and serve alongside the lettuce and garlic toast.

NOTES:

1 – No need to be too fussy about this, as the blender is destined to pulverize the garlic anyway.

2 – The best option is Parmigiano Reggiano, of course, though most Parmesan cheeses are serviceable, particularly if they’re whole and are grated just prior to use.

3 – If you don’t care for anchovies, remain calm.  The other ingredients are more than assertive enough to completely mask the anchovies’ taste.  Quite a feat, actually.  The fish merely adds an unidentifiable richness and saltines.

If you really can’t stand anchovies, skip them and add an extra 1/2-teaspoon of salt.  Not the same, but good enough.

50 thoughts on “Hail, Caesar!

      1. See, Tamara, I added that last comment about the heat as a concession to your feminine thinking. In contrast, as far as guys ae concerned, gilling weather comes in countless varieties.

        Sweltering? Let’s grill! Blizzard? That’s why we have shovels – and toques.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Though, the snow shovel has been rumored to make a way from the back door, to the grill. Even inanimate objects help men satisfy their mission.

        When I saw that shovel clearing snow on its own, who was I to argue the point?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Some of the most amazing meals I’ve enjoyed were from limited ingredients tossed together … that is the sign of an excellent cook, improvisation! Why even I can follow a recipe but to blend food and flavours ad hoc … that’s genius!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Much appreciated, Kate!

      Best of all, aside from the anchovies in the dressing, everything present you may replicate with a clear conscience.

      As far as the anchovies go, don’t worry about them. They safely may be omitted, perhaps only compensating with an additional pinch of salt and an extra grind of pepper. Your taste buds will be none the wiser.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated!

      You know, Msededeng, at first skepticism held sway. “There’s no way this will work,” I thought, “Lettuce is, like, 95% water.”

      Guess who was oh-so-wrong. Yes, it’s important to watch the lettuce carefully, and the bread only a little less so, but the grill will surprise, then delight, you.

      See? Some dreams do come true.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep, Jenn, and in Tijuana, of all places.

      Not the first – or the 1,765th – thing that comes to mind when I contemplate Mexican cuisine (Mmmm – Hold on, give me a sec) but you can add Caesar Salad to the list.

      What do you say, Cliff Claven – does that qualify as a “little-known fact”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much, Summer! Of course, I’m a guy, meaning the heat is just a convenient excuse to grill. Believe me, come February, I still will find rationalizations galore.

      As far as the flame goes, though, it does wonders for the lettuce and the bread. Char=flavor. A light char, though. I watched the ingredients carefully, lest the char become a burn, imposing a big red “X” on dinner!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are definitely a master at making the food seem even better than I’m sure it already is. This made me hungry even though I just ate dinner!

    Julia lived the life didn’t she? I might have mentioned this before but her and Jacques Pepin used to cook together and collaborate on recipes. I went through a stint where I kinda obsessively tried a bunch of their recipes! Absolutely fabulous! Cook’s Country has a lot of great recipes as well. I used to subscribe to their magazine at one point.

    Thanks for the great background story. Always very interesting. Food is life isn’t it!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks much, JoAnn.!

      You haven’t mentioned Julia and Jacques before, at least not to me, but it’s so cool they’ve inspired you so. Then again, who haven’t they motivated?

      Great to meet another Cook’s Country fan. Between that magazine, and Illustrated, you have probably a third of the recipes I’m inspired to try. Not to mention the fact their PBS show, America’s Test Kitchens, is on around lunchtime Saturdays around here, meaning it’s often tuned in while I’m working on the week’s recipe.

      Oh, now that I am aware of your appreciation of Julia/Jacques, I have to ask – is there a single recipe that stands out as one that really worked well? Just curious, as I haven’t worked up the gumption yet to try one of their creations. Though Pepin’s Tarte Tatin is becoming a possibility.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I always thought working in America’s Test Kitchen would be a great job to have!

        There’s an awesome book that Jacques and Julia wrote together called Cooking at Home. I tried several recipes from that book and they were all fabulous! Been quite a while ago now but the ones that stick out most in my mind are Steak Diane, Poulet a la Creme and a Chocolate Pots de Creme. I’m sure I tried one of their Tart recipes but I don’t think it was the one you mentioned, which I’m sure is delicious as well.

        I also read Pepin’s autobiography, The Apprentice, which I can’t recommend enough. All of the recipes I tried from that book were all just the best plus Pepin lived such as interesting life! The recipes that sticks out most in my mind include a warm potato salad and a deviled egg recipe that is simply the best I’ve ever had. It’s just terrible how much I love all that rich food!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks for the insight and recollections, JoAnn. Fascinating, and a cool insight into what keeps you going. Much of it, me too.

        Funny you mention Poulet a la Creme, as that’s slated to appear in the somewhat-less-than-immediate future. Not the Julia/Jacques version, but something promising nonetheless. Of course, you’ll b able to compare it directly with the original. It’s show time!

        I definitely am going to have to check out The Apprentice. Particularly now that Pepin has retired from weekly cooking shows, it’d a great way to keep the artistry front and center.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. As am I, JoAnn. To think, Poulet a la Creme called out to me, more loudly and clearly than did tens of thousands of lesser recipes.

        See, I’m not just the cook, but I also am the taster, often the host and, months later, the defroster. Much more to go around than just what appears in the photo!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Crystal!

      Honestly, I was a bit cautious about the lettuce, but as others had tried it before, well, monkey see-monkey do.

      As long as you give it the attention it deserves, the romaine will reward you. Plus, grill marks on greens. How cool is that?

      Like

      1. Loves me some grill marks! (And this house grills lots of veg. Can’t believe we haven’t tried the romaine, and I use the collective we because I’ve actually NEVER fired up my own grill. I only admit that to my closest friends. My big job is veg prep, which leaves me more time to press words.) But one of the Houston C-K monkeys will do.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Until this recipe rotated into existence not long ago, Crystal, I myself was a romaine newbie. Now it’s your turn. Come on, Crystal, you know your curiosity calls to you.

        Oh, and speaking of flaming plants, did you ever give grilled peaches a whirl? The grill has the power to make even a February peach lip-smacking. Amidst late-summer stone fruit perfection, though? Lord have mercy!

        As you know, it’s all in the prep. Halve those peaches and quarter that romaine. Soon enough, you and Kody will have yourselves a good ol’ feast down Houston way.

        Like

      3. 2020 has been infernal.

        So too has this summer. Let’s send it off in style.

        With that objective in mind, great menu ideas, Crystal – crafted with the care, thoughtfulness and precision of a lesson plan!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Keith, I want to thank you for this recipe because you have given us a new way to cook our vegetables. In my house, we now grill our bok choy this way, instead of either steaming or stir frying it and it is so delicious. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much appreciated, Angela! Especially touching, as you wove your family’s culinary fate and mine. Glad everything worked well.

      Do you like corn-on-the-cob? It’s what started me on grilling all manner of fruits and vegetables, and if you’re fond of corn boiled in a pot of water, you’ll love what the flame does. Of course, corn is done for the season, more or less, but it’s something to keep in mind when it’s showtime again next July.

      On the other hand, bok choy most definitely still is plentiful, and I can’t wait to prepare it as you suggest. Already my stomach growls.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your writing just lights up my face, Keith, thank you.
        Yes, corn on a cob is very African, lol; sometimes, we cook dried corn with beans together, fry it with onions, and it’s so good.
        What part of the Pacific (?) are you? Forgive me if I am making assumptions here.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, Angela, thank you.

        I live in the northeast US, though my family did live in California (L.A., specifically, Orange County) for a couple years. We were only a couple blocks from the Pacific, and I wish I remembered more. Alas, though, I was but a wee lad.

        The corn preparation you describe from back home does intrigue. If the corn is dry, how do you supply moisture to make it chewable again? Do you add liquid to the corn/beans, or does the cooking process alone soften them?

        Like

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