Hail, Caesar's salad

GRAHAM HAWKES
Last updated 12:15 27/08/2014
Southland Times photo
ROBYN EDIE/Fairfax NZ
The caesar salad has humble beginnings.

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Let's take another trip on our culinary journey and visit the salad created in 1924 which changed the way the world we viewed salads - from there on, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

Salads have been enjoyed for centuries but this salad was somewhat different - supposedly created by chef Caesar Cardini on July 4, 1924, in a restaurant called Caesars on a frantically busy American Independence Day weekend.

The story goes Cardini ran short of supplies so - in the typical style of a passionate cook - rather than disappoint his customers he concocted a salad with what was on hand. Half a case of eggs, a wheel of parmesan cheese, some lemons, dried bread, crates of Romaine lettuce and plenty of olive oil, to which he had apparently added garlic, and away he went.

With lettuce the only green and substantial base of the salad, Cardini came up with the idea of coddling the eggs for a minute then tossing them with the salad. This was to help bind the dressing ingredients together. The loaves of bread he cut into tiny cubes and slowly oven-toasted them to add to the salad at the very end.

As this was to be served as a main course dish, he then arranged the lettuce leaves on a plate with the tips to the centre and the stems outwards so they would be eaten with the fingers. It wasn't until sometime later when Hollywood legends started to frequent his restaurant that he changed the style and started shredding the leaves into bite-sized pieces.

The interesting thing about the Caesar salad is Caesar's brother Alex, who was a pilot in the Italian air force, also claimed to have developed the salad, which he called aviators' salad after a long night of celebrating at Rockwell Field Air Force as a dish for breakfast. In later years Alex opened three restaurants in Mexico City, listing the salad on the menu as the original Alex Cardini Caesar salad.

Just to add to confusion, there is a third story that a guy by the name of Paul Maggiora, who back then was a business partner of the Cardini's, also claimed to have tossed for first aviator salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego.

I recall the last time I was in Chicago reading that an Italian cook by the name of Giacomo Junia, who in 1903 had a small restaurant called the New York Cap, staked a claim on the famous salad.

Wallis Simpson, who famously married Prince Edward VII, frequented Caesar's restaurant when she was in the area and, during her travels, began instructing other chefs on how to make the salad. She was commonly credited with introducing the Caesar salad to Europe.

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In a well-published interview in 1952 Cardini said the salad did not become well known until 1937 when a Hollywood screenwriter for Paramount called Manny Wolf provided the recipe to various restaurants, propelling the salad to fame in Hollywood.

Perhaps the most interesting was an article published in the San Mateo Times in 1952 which stated that Jean Harlow, Mabel Hoomand and all the stars would come to Tijuana and ask for a Caesar salad. An extract from Gourmet Magazine in 1948 says Caesar salad is as much of a part of the Hollywood pattern as swimming pools or "the new look".

The meeting of the International Society of Epicures in 1951 acclaimed the Caesar salad as the greatest recipe contribution of the United States in 50 years.

Author, television personality and well-known American chef Julia Child recalls in her book Julia Child's Kitchen dining at Caesars Restaurant as a child, eating the Caesar salad made by Cardini himself. Later in life she contacted his daughter Rose Cardini to get the original recipe.

So, from its origins in Tijuana, Mexic,o the Caesar salad has become perhaps the best-known salad in the world today and, like any good salad, it really is based on its dressing.

Today, let's make a Caesar salad using the recipe for the dressing I was given by my good friend and well-known professor of the culinary arts, Reed Millar from St Louis.

CAESAR SALAD DRESSING (makes about 750ml)

1 rib of celery, scraped
1 clove of garlic
1/2 medium onion peeled
50g flat anchovies
1 tsp black pepper
Pinch of msg (monosodium glutamate)
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp ready-prepared English-style mustard
3 eggs
2 cups olive oil

Place all the ingredients except eggs and oil in a blender and blend for 1 minute.

Add the eggs and blend for 15-20 seconds. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, a little at a time allowing the dressing to emulsify.

Check the seasoning and keep in the refrigerator until required.

CAESAR SALAD (serves 4)

2 thick slices of stale sourdough bread, crusts removed and toasted in garlic oil
Leaves from 2 romaine lettuces, roughly broken up into bite-sized pieces
6 rashers of streaky bacon, cooked until very crisp and held warm
4 lightly coddle (or poached) free range eggs
4 slices of fillets of anchovy
1 cup freshly shredded parmesan cheese
1 tbsp fresh lime juice

Simply toss the romaine lettuce leaves, streaky bacon, anchovies and dressing and place into four bowls.

Sprinkle with the lime juice, toasted bread and top with the coddled egg.

Dress with a little more dressing and enjoy.

- The Southland Times

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