It's been a while since Annie and I have been in the kitchen together. She and Pierson are going on a trip soon so we decided that before they leave, we should have a little cookout in her back yard. The weather was warm and we knew we wanted to grill. Earlier in the week we had high aspirations of making another menu from the Sunday Suppers at Lucques or maybe trying our hand at cedar plank salmon but once Saturday rolled around, it all just seemed like too much. We settled on a simple menu: a big cold, pitcher of vodka lemonade with cucumber and mint, hamburgers with caramelized red onion, and crumbled Stilton, a giant bowl of Caesar salad, and home made vanilla ice cream for dessert.
There are certain dishes that every cook really ought to know how to make, foolproof staples that one can go back to over and over again - things like roast chicken, apple pie, steak au poivre, and Caesar salad. Depending on who you talk to Caesar salads are either a classic or a cliche. Where I live in West Hollywood there is a restaurant called Koo Koo Roo that more or less, turns Caesar salad with chicken into fast food. They even have a giant revolving chicken head on the roof. And yet I still love them. Nothing beats a well made Caesar with a dressing made from scratch.
This recipe is a combination of one I saw Tyler Florence do on How to Boil Water and one I found in the 21 Cookbook. You remember 21. It's where Grace Kelly carried in lobster thermador for poor crippled Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Now I know it's not the classic, rub the bowl with garlic method, but I find that a food processor works just as well.
(For the dressing)
2 large raw egg yolks
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
zest of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (2-ounce) can anchovy fillets, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
(For the salad)
3 romaine hearts, cleaned, dried, and chopped
1 head watercress, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
a couple hand fulls of croutons, store bought are acceptable but home made are better
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, either grated or sliced off using a vegetable peeler
2 grilled or roasted chicken breasts, sliced (optional)
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the egg yolks, garlic, mustard, lemon juice and zest, vinegar, and Worcestershire. Pulse the mixture together until the garlic is finely chopped. Then, while the motor is running, add the olive oil in a very, VERY, slow, steady stream to emulsify the dressing. Add the anchovies, pulse for 30 seconds, and then season with salt and pepper.
In a large salad bowl, combine the sliced romaine, watercress, and parsley. Add about 1/4 cup or so of the dressing and toss to coat lightly. Add the croutons, parmesan, chicken if using, and a little more dressing if it seems too dry and toss again to combine. Grind over some black pepper.
I've made this dressing a number of times and it's always a hit. People love it. The combination of the crisp romaine, the peppery watercress, the salty
parmesan, the crunchy croutons, and the tangy dressing is just
phenomenal. Unlike a lot of Caesar dressings you might find at the supermarket or at certain restaurants, this one is not super thick and gloopy. In fact, it's surprisingly light and fresh thanks to the lemon juice and zest but at the same time has a richness you can only get from egg yolks. Lots of recipes note that the egg yolk is optional but I disagree. It's like, if you aren't going to use egg yolks and anchovies then what's the point?
Since I had dressing left over, Mark and I had the salad again last night. I made up another batch of fresh croutons and this time I added some sliced store-bought rotisserie chicken. So satisfying. Caesar salads are like the little black dress of food. Simple, elegant and timeless.
This makes enough for about 8 servings. The extra dressing can be stored covered in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days.