CAE­SAR SALAD

This clas­sic lunch or light sup­per is sim­plic­ity it­self to make prop­erly, as our man re­veals

Esquire (UK) - - Style -

Food TV used to be so sim­ple. Be­fore the dra­mat­ics of Master Chef and the histri­on­ics of The Great Bri­tish Bake Off (both of which I love, by the way), there were three types of pro­gramme: per­son­al­ity “chop-and-chat” shows (Keith Floyd, Jamie Oliver); ve­hi­cles for an­gry Gor­don Ram­say to swear a lot; and cook­ing con­tests. Master Chef and Bake Off fall into the lat­ter cat­e­gory but the king of day­time TV was Ready Steady Cook.

If you don’t re­call it, let me re­mind you. Ains­ley Har­riott gurned en­ter­tain­ingly, gave a bag of 10 ran­dom in­gre­di­ents (brought in by the au­di­ence) to two teams, con­sist­ing of a mem­ber of the pub­lic and a pro­fes­sional chef, who have 20 min­utes to make some­thing. The au­di­ence voted for the “best” dish. It ran from 1994 to 2010 for nearly 2,000 episodes, and it was bril­liant. Con­tes­tants could sup­ple­ment the mys­tery in­gre­di­ents with what you’d find in an av­er­age do­mes­tic larder. But what constitutes a “larder in­gre­di­ent”?

I have a small ar­se­nal of herbs, spices, oils and vine­gars in mine, but also have se­cret weapons: ca­pers, dried porcini, tomato purée, Tabasco, miso paste, bouil­lon and the most essen­tial larder standby of all, tinned anchovies. With a near mirac­u­lous abil­ity to trans­form lesser in­gre­di­ents, there is an umami qual­ity to anchovies’ flavour that can turn “meh” into “mamma mia!”. I of­ten stuff anchovies, gar­lic,

rose­mary and salt into a lac­er­ated leg of lamb be­fore roast­ing (it’s amaz­ing). Or I will lay two plump anchovies onto a fin­ger of cold toast with a sliver of cold but­ter. One of the most com­mon uses for th­ese hum­ble-look­ing fish, how­ever, is as the main in­gre­di­ent in cae­sar salad dress­ing.

The cae­sar salad, next in my Esquire year of clas­sics, is so de­cep­tively sim­ple that peo­ple of­ten get it wrong. You must al­ways use ro­maine let­tuce (aka cos) or baby gem — never ice­berg. You must spin the leaves thor­oughly af­ter wash­ing — resid­ual water di­lutes the dress­ing too much. You must make your own crou­tons — shop-bought ones of­ten taste like they’ve been flavoured with hal­i­to­sis. Don’t add chicken breast — that’s not a cae­sar salad. And you must make the dress­ing from scratch us­ing or­ganic free-range egg yolks and those trusty tinned fellers from the larder.

And, if there are any TV ex­ec­u­tives read­ing this: please bring back Ready Steady Cook.

(Sadly, Har­riott is prob­a­bly busy pre­par­ing for the Strictly Come Danc­ing Christ­mas spe­cial, but I’ve checked my di­ary — and I’m free...)

Hail cae­sar: crisp let­tuce, crou­tons, Parme­san and a signature zingy dress­ing go into a sub­lime salad

FOOD THE AC­CI­DEN­TAL COOK

Rus­sell Nor­man

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