This salad has come a long way from its origins as an improvised dish at a busy eatery. Now it’s a world-conquering classic.
The Americans know cos lettuce as romaine, which often leads people to assume that the two are distinct – they aren’t. Let’s go with cos, for simplicity’s sake. The
Ancient Egyptians friskily associated cos with fertility, an allusion to it’s somewhat distinct shape. The word seems to have been derived from the Arabic word “khus”, meaning lettuce, whereas romaine comes from the Italians, who call it “lattuga Romana”, or Roman lettuce.
Enough geekery. On to my friend Caesar Cardini.
As the story goes, Cardini, an Italian-American who set up shop in Tijuana, Mexico, improvised the Caesar salad one busy Fourth of July, when the place was completely slammed with customers. Being an enterprising type, he decided to make up a dish at table with whatever leftover ingredients he could bang together.
As with any dish that’s even remotely mainstream, the variations are endless (as are the arguments as to the best).
The original recipe calls for romaine lettuce, a coddled egg, garlic, good Italian olive oil, Worcestershire sauce and plenty of parmesan.
Caesar himself reportedly shunned the use of anchovies, preferring the tang of Worcestershire.
I disagree. I like anchovy. I like dijon. And I really love fried garlicky bread. You may choose to omit some, or all. Add whatever you like. Roast chicken, crisp bacon, whole anchovy fillets; heck, go full 80s and add strawberries if you want (yes, this was, for the briefest of horrifying moments, a thing; I wouldn’t recommend it).
For some reason I find this dish quite romantic. Perhaps it has something to do with legendary status; of something so simple being so powerful. Oh, listen to me. Waxing lyrical. Make it and see. It’ll make the shadows of those gloopily dressed things of the 80s and 90s disappear forever.