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