This is the very first thing I ever learned to make. It was my Mom’s attempt to duplicate the Caesar Salad at Al Baker’s old restaurant on the corner of Brentwood and Clayton back in St. Louis. She taught it to me just as soon as I was tall enough to work on the kitchen counter.
I make no claim that it’s a “real” Caesar or that it’s as good as Al’s. But it’s still really good eats — damn near a meal in itself.
Not Quite Al Baker’s Caesar
1 head of Romaine lettuce.
About a quarter loaf of Italian bread, cubed.
2-1/2 cups of extra virgin olive oil.
4 cloves of garlic, crushed.
7-10 drops of Worcestershire sauce.
1 egg, raw or coddled.
1/2 cup red wine vinegar.
1/2 cup of Parmeggiano-Reggiano, grated.
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard.
2 or 3 anchovy filets.
A quick squeeze of juice from a lemon slice.
Fresh cracked pepper.
If you thought I put you through hell the last time I asked you to make croutons, wait’ll you see what’s in store today. It’s a little something I came up with myself.
So — how to make the croutons. Measure two cups of olive oil, and leave it in the measuring cup. Crush three cloves of garlic in there and let the oil soak up all the garlicky goodness. If your bread isn’t stale, pre-heat the oven to 215 degrees, cube the bread, and dry out the cubes in the oven for 10 minutes.
Now here’s the kicker. I want you to individually hand-dunk each cube of stale bread into the garlic-infused olive oil. Make sure each one is good and soaked, all the way through. Do I want you to do this just to mess with you? Hardly. If I were, I’d tell you it had to be done to a certain song at a certain time of day, standing on your head, and only with your left hand. This is how I make my croutons, and I’ll tell you why when we get to the end.
OK. After each dunk, put each pre-crouton on a cookie sheet. And have the oven pre-heating to 375 degrees. When, at long last, you’re done, shred a little of the Parm-Reg on top, then stick the cookie sheet in the oven for no more than 7 minutes. What’s going on in there? Why the high heat? Why the strict time limit? The idea is to fully cook the outside of the croutons, but not the inside. So every time you bite into one, you get the expected crunchy crouton goodness — but then there will be an explosion of garlic-infused olive oil in your mouth. Makes it worth all the effort.
Do not make this on a first date.
Now then. Tear the Romaine into bite-sized bits, wash the bits, and run the bits through your salad spinner to dry them off. (What? You don’t have a salad spinner? Don’t be a chump — a really top-of-the-line one will run you 20 bucks, and save you lots of headaches, wet lettuce, and a forest’s worth of paper towels.) Put the lettuce in the fridge to keep it crisp.
Time to make the dressing. I like to do it in a tiny little wood bowl — it makes a lot less noise than a regular porcelain bowl or a glass container. With a salad fork, mush those anchovy filets until they look even more disgusting than they did when they still looked like evil hairy fishies. Or just cheat and use anchovy paste. When they look like. . . well, people who have changed diapers will know what they look like. . . crush the last clove of garlic into the bowl, along with the egg, and mix everything together. Pour in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, lemon juice, dry mustard, Worcestershire, and red wine vinegar. Keep mixing with the fork until it emulsifies.
Consider adding a pinch of salt.
Before the dressing “breaks,” pour it over the lettuce in the biggest salad bowl you can find or afford. Toss it, grate on some Parm-Reg, toss, grate, toss, crack some pepper on there, and toss again.
Serve on chilled dinner plate — and don’t you dare kiss anyone who hasn’t had at least three bites of their own.