Monday, December 20, 2010

Holy Yum!

This king of salads has a place on the holiday table
It’s hectic, Sunday, got to write a column, looking forward to friends this evening, going to Albany to pick up my daughter tomorrow (looking forward to driving home on Winter Solstice AND full moon), and so I’m making and writing about THE Caesar Salad.

Besides making a great supper salad, especially, perhaps, in this solstice/new years season, it makes a refreshing breakfast – if you manage to squirrel a bit away – for the morning after. In this way I can have friends over, take pix, eat well, finish up the column tomorrow – the whole thing like a jigsaw puzzle, fitting it into the little pockets of time that this season repatterns.

This isn’t the original Caesar salad but I do believe it’s Craig Claiborne’s, from when he was the  food guru at the New York Times. I’ve made it many, many times and once had it served to me in an airport hotel restaurant where the waiter made it tableside.  I mean THIS Caesar salad. I’ve had lots of others that just don’t measure up.
The recipe, circa 1978, which is also taped (like the corn bread) to my messy cupboard door,  reads like this:
Caesar salad
Had this since time began.
- Combine and let steep -
1 clove garlic, smashed, with 1/2 cup olive oil
- Begin to make
2 c. croutons in garlic oil
- Tear
1 or 2 heads romaine lettuce
into a bowl.
- Sprinkle with
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/4 c. crumbled bleu or Roquefort cheese
- Combine
1/2 c. olive oil
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
3/4 t. salt (?)
3/4 t. freshly grated pepper
drizzle over greens and toss.
1 raw egg
1/4 c. lemon juice
several anchovies (to taste)
on top and toss until no egg color remains.
- Add and toss
Garlic croutons.
This is the perfect Caesar – yes to anchovies, yes to raw egg, yes to getting your hands into it and tossing, tossing, in the prescribed stages, until every last leaf is a bit limp with its unctuous goodness.

If you hate anchovies then don’t make this salad. If it’s only the texture of anchovies – and I dislike the little feathery bones – then chop them finely, or melt them over very low heat in a small frying pan before adding them to the greens. But this salad is nothing without the umphy umami that the anchovies add.

If you (sniff) Do. Not. Eat. Raw Eggs, then don’t make this salad, because ditto – if not umami then that egg contributes something just as important. If you buy your eggs, as fresh as yesterday, from a nice local farmer who lets her chickens roam around outside and helps them perch fluffily and huffily on roosts under shelter at night, and even coos to them sometimes below their own clucks, you have little to fear except fear itself.
If you want to be more local, use local spinach for the greens.

The recipe itself is a bit problematic. The olive oil and garlic, for instance, don’t add up. I do it this way., starting an hour or two, or a day or two, before you will serve the salad.

1) Smash a clove or two of garlic and put it with ½ cup olive oil into a 1 cup measure.  Add  a tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, a sprinkling of salt and several grinds of black – or white – pepper. (I believe the ¾ teaspoon of salt has a question mark after it for good reason – it might be too much. Add a sprinkling, then wait till the end and taste to see if it needs more.) Set this mixture aside.

2) Make croutons. Cut 4 to 6 slices of – I like Baba Louis white sourdough – bread into ¾ inch cubes and let them sit out for a bit, then coat the bottom of a wide-bottomed frying pan with a skim of olive oil. It should have a bit of depth. Slice a clove or two of garlic thinly and add to the warming olive oil over medium-low heat. When it begins, just barely, to brown, toss the bread cubes into the oil until they’re coated. Watch them very carefully, shaking them and tossing them often so they don’t burn. You want them to get crisp and golden and a little dried out, but not burned. When they’re done – and that might take half an hour – sprinkle with salt, toss, and set them aside.

3) Wash 2 large or 3 small heads of romaine  (or spinach), shake it damp, wrap it in a thickness of paper towels, put it into a plastic bag and into the fridge until making time.

Ready to make the salad?

4) Tear the greens into a bowl (which could be rubbed with yet another clove of garlic), sprinkle with at least ¼ cup grated Parm and bleu cheese each, and then the olive oil/Worcester mixture and toss with your hands. The reason for this is that you want each leaf to be almost... massaged with the oil and cheeses. Think sensuous.
massage, massage, in this whirl of a holiday season: Photo by Wendy Hybl Fannin

5) Break the raw egg over the greens (maybe break it into a dish first. Just in case...), sprinkle the lemon juice over, then the anchovies, and toss and toss, massage, massage, until not a speck of recognizable egg shows. Taste for salt and sprinkle with more if needed. Ditto pepper.

6) Sprinkle the croutons over the greens and toss once again.

Holy Yum!

And have a seriously sentient solstice. See you next year!
Monday morning breakfast... Mmmm

1 comment:

Eddie said...

Great photos. I would say that an alternative to using regular raw eggs, would be using pasteurized eggs. They eliminate any risk of salmonella and allow you to make any egg recipe without worrying. Especially with these recent egg recalls, one can never be too sure.