Friday, April 24, 2015

Dictionary Caesar Salad

Growing up I had never had a Caesar salad. I had heard the term, but I had no idea what it was. This was before the Internet, so I couldn’t just look it up on wikipedia. So instead I checked my dictionary, which told me it was a mix of romaine lettuce, a coddled egg, olive oil, garlic, anchovies, and parmesan cheese.

I decided to make that. Only without the anchovies because, well, because they’re anchovies!

I did not have a recipe. I owned a few cook books, but I never used them, because cookbooks are written by people who love cooking, and thus come up with really complicated, labor intensive ways to create very simple dishes. But I figured, I would just toss in the ingredients and hope for the best. And amazingly, it turned out great. This is the recipe I invented 30 years ago based on my Miriam-Webster dictionary definition.

Time: 15 minutes

Romaine lettuce, cleaned and torn into bite-sized pieces
Grating cheese (parmesan, romano, or asiago)
Olive oil
Garlic (minced or run through a garlic press)
1 egg
Croutons, if you like (see recipe below)

Pour some olive oil into a large mixing bowl. I probably use a third cup if I’m making it just for myself. I probably should use more, as I explain below.

Put in the garlic. I use a garlic press - garlic presses are awesome – but mince it if you prefer. I like my salad very garlicky, so I usually use a couple of cloves per person (depending on clove size). If I have a cold I go crazy with the garlic, because garlic is supposed to be good for you. You should always put the garlic in the oil right at the beginning so it can infuse into the oil a little bit while you’re doing everything else.

Coddle an egg. I had to look this up in the dictionary too. It seems it’s just a barely-cooked egg. I have no idea if I’m doing it right, but what I do is boil water in a sauce pan, turn off the heat, carefully lower the egg into the water with tongs so it doesn’t break, leave it in one minute, take it out with the tongs and run it under cold water. This makes it mainly raw but cooked around the edges, which may or may not be what coddling is supposed to be like.

Crack open the coddled egg and pour it into the bowl. Mix it all up with a whisk or a fork.

Add grated cheese until you’ve got something that’s thick but still thin enough that you can toss the romaine in it.

Remember when I said I don’t use enough olive oil? The reason I believe this is so is because when I toss the salad at this point, it is never cheesy enough, and my theory is if I put in a bunch more oil I could add more cheese before I drop in the lettuce.  But instead I do this:

Grate more cheese over the salad and mix it in. Taste it when you think there’s enough cheese, and if there’s not, put in more until it tastes the way you like it.

One day when I was out of croutons I decided they ought to be easy to make. I’d heard they were made from stale bread, and since I had some bread that was a little stale, I figured I might as well try. Now I much prefer my croutons to store-bought ones.

Home-made croutons:
Stale Bread
Spices (basil, oregano, maybe some paprika)
Olive oil

Cut up your bread into crouton-sized pieces. Pour a little olive oil into a frying pan, swish it around and heat it. Set the heat to medium, or perhaps medium high. Drop in the bread pieces, sprinkle some spices on top and stir it all around a little. Flip the croutons after a while so they can cook on the other side. Or, if they’re square, on several other sides. Keep doing that until they’re crisp and golden. Put on your Caesar salad.

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