How to Construct a Salad and Make Dressing

How to Construct a Salad and Make Dressing

Tossed tableside at supper clubs by tuxedoed waiters, the Caesar salad is arguably the most sophisticated and romantic of all lettuce-based dishes.

Once a mere starter, the Caesar salad has become a favorite entrée with the addition of extras such as grilled chicken, shrimp, or steak.

The original recipe, attributed to chef and restaurateur Caesar Cardini, was said to have included olive oil, coddled eggs, and whole romaine lettuce leaves, meant to be plucked from the plate by the stem and nibbled by hand. (The lore goes that Caesar Cardini invented the Caesar salad out of desperation one summer's night when his kitchen was running out of staple menu ingredients.) Chopping it makes for tidier eating, but eating salad with your hands is a fun change of pace.

1 Select a salad bowl. I have a favorite, large wooden bowl that's functional and beautiful. For a classic Caesar, use romaine lettuce, torn into large chunks. As with all green salads, it's imperative to make sure the leaves are dry (see Care and Handling of Lettuce). Use a salad spinner and allow the lettuce to air dry. If needed, pat with a clean dish towel.

2 Make the dressing. (See Classic Caesar Dressing.)

3 Pour on the dressing, and then toss with your salad spoons or a pair of tongs. How much dressing to use is a matter of taste—some people like their salad really wet, some like it really dry—but a rough estimate is 1 tablespoon of dressing for every 2 cups of leaves. Start with that and add more as needed. First, be sure to toss well so each leaf is coated in a very thin layer of dressing. Once tossed, top with homemade croutons, a final grind of pepper, and some big, flat shavings of Parmesan cheese.

4 Serve the salad right away. As with all lettuces, the romaine will start to wilt immediately upon being dressed.

5 Once you've mastered the basic Caesar, improvise! Try: lime juice, balsamic vinegar, red onion, Boston or butter lettuce, mesclun mix, spinach, capers, crumbled bacon, and scallions.

RAW EGGS: ARE THEY SAFE TO EAT?

The dressing for a Classic Ceasar salad is traditionally made with raw egg. According to the FDA, raw eggs can carry a risk of salmonella contamination. In 2009, they did a study that showed the risk to be lower than originally thought: About 1 in 30,000 eggs was found to be contaminated, and even then, the bacteria may not have penetrated the shell. Since 2010, all commercially produced eggs have been treated to kill the bacteria, but there is no 100 percent guarantee that salmonella won't be present.

My family and I eat raw eggs. My children are past the vulnerable infant and toddler stages; we're all healthy and we get our eggs from reputable sources. I also make sure that the shells are washed and that the eggs stay refrigerated. I hard-boil all of my eggs that float(instead of sink) in water, which indicates advanced age.

If you want to use raw eggs but have concerns, consider using those that are pasteurized in-shell or coddle them by slipping whole eggs into boiling water for one minute, then immediately plunging them into an ice-water bath to halt cooking. Then you can separate the white from the yolk, if called for.

RECIPE: CLASSIC CAESAR DRESSING

Ideas about the salad vary, but the real marker of a good Caesar salad is the dressing. I often use my blender to make salad dressings. For vinaigrettes, I simply add all the ingredients to a tightly sealed jar and shake it. But a blender helps make this dressing creamy. If you don't want to use one, simply whisk everything but the olive oil in a medium-size bowl, then drizzle in the oil while whisking.

Makes ½ cup, to dress enough salad for 3 or 4 people

3 anchovy fillets (or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste)

1 clove garlic, chopped finely or pressed

1 large egg yolk

Juice of 1 lemon (see How to Juice a Lemon)

¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Put the anchovy, garlic, egg, and lemon juice in a blender. Pulse to combine.

2. Add the Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and ¼ cup of the olive oil. Pulse to make a smooth paste.

3. With the blender on medium speed, slowly drizzle in the remaining ¼ cup olive oil to make a creamy dressing. If the dressing seems too thick, add a little more olive oil, taste it for balance, and add a little salt, if needed. Use it right away; this dressing does not store well.

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