Caesar salad

Caesar salad

PT25M

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This is my favourite salad of all time. It has been ruined by awful pre-packaged takeaway versions, with stale croutons, cardboard Parmesan flakes and browning lettuce leaves. Or else by restaurants jazzing the salad up, as if it ever needed ornamenting… Dreadful. I had one of my best culinary moments eating a Caesar salad at the Zuni Café in San Francisco – it was one of the most perfect plates of food I’ve ever eaten. So simple, so balanced and so delicious. The recipe given below is from The Zuni Café Cookbook, slightly adapted to my preferences. It is worth reading the original recipe just to see the level of precise detail that she gives in preparing this salad. One thing that is stressed is that the dressing must be fresh so do not make it in advance; at Zuni Café, they famously make it to order.

  • Croutons

  • 150g of bread, slightly stale, about a day old (white or sourdough)
  • 3 tbsp of olive oil
  • Salad

  • romaine lettuce, 2 large or 3 medium heads
  • 1/2 tbsp of red wine vinegar
  • 80ml of olive oil, good quality
  • 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
  • 1/2 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1 large egg, fridge cold, beaten (the temperature ‘cold’ is specified in the Zuni recipe, though I’ve never quite understood the reason for this – sometimes you just do as you're told!)
  • 45g of Parmesan, grated
  • 1 1/2 tbsp of lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper
1
Preheat the oven to 175°C/gas mark 3
2
Remove the crusts from the bread and tear into large, misshapen shards, roughly the size of a large cotton bud but wonkier in appearance
3
Toss the bread in the 3 tablespoons of oil, season with a pinch of salt and place on a tray in the oven. Check after 10 minutes and give the pieces a turn. Return for a further 5–10 minutes until the croutons are a deep gold colour. Allow to cool
4
Remove the tougher outer leaves of the lettuce and discard (or use in my lettuce soup recipe). Unravel the rest of the lettuce, keeping the leaves whole, washing and drying each one. It is very important that the leaves are completely dry before assembling the salad, otherwise you’ll be left with a diluted and uninspiring dish
5
In a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic to a paste. Add the anchovies and pound not quite to a smooth paste (the odd small piece of anchovy is a nice thing to come across in the salad). Add the lemon juice and vinegar and stir to incorporate
6
Add 30g of the cheese, the beaten egg and plenty of black pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, mixing constantly. The resulting dressing should be a slightly strange consistency – not totally emulsified but still all holding together
7
Taste the dressing both on its own and with a salad leaf to check the balance. Add more lemon juice if you feel it needs more zing. As yet no salt has been added as the anchovies and Parmesan are salty, but judge whether it needs an extra bit of seasoning
8
Place your lettuce and croutons in a large bowl and pour over enough dressing to coat each leaf and crouton. Make sure the dressing is well distributed and each leaf is glossy and glazed with it
9
To serve, start with the larger leaves on the bottom of the plate, building the salad up like a pyrmaid with the smallest, most tender leaves on top and the croutons spread throughout. Generously grate the remaining parmesan on top of the salad. Use the fine side of the grater or better still a microplane to create delicate curls of cheese
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