March 25, 2009
Crimes against food: Caesar's salad

caesarsalad.jpgMany years ago, when I first started reading Nigel Slater's food column in the Observer, I remember he ran a piece on "crimes against food". By this, he meant dishes that can be quite good if done correctly but which are most often done criminally wrong. His example was prawn cocktail, which is frequently just a load of defrosted shrimps plopped in a cup with a mixture of commercial mayonnaise and ketchup. When I lived in the US, I think my first nomination would have been rice pudding, with nachos a close second. Now that I have ten years of experience visiting and living in the UK, I know that I only have one dish to nominate: Caesar's salad.

When I started visiting the UK with the Critic a decade ago and more, I was frequently taken in by the lure of Caesar's salad. It's not a dish that shows up frequently on French menus and it's one of my favorite dishes of all time. When it's done right. But pretty much universally - and especially in theoretically "American" restaurants - it's criminally awful in British restaurants. Anchovies rarely figure in the salad or the dressing. The tomatoes are woody and flavorless. It actually tastes like someone has taken salad cream (i.e. watered down sweet mayonnaise) and added a teaspoon of grated industrial Parmesan per cup of sauce, plopped on some wilted lettuce, added a few dried out bits of bread and the aforementioned tomatoes and - ta-da! - served something that tastes almost but not quite entirely unlike Caesar's salad.

It makes me very, very angry. Or it did until I learned better and swore off ordering Caesar's salad in the UK.

This salad is also, sadly, not a true Caesar's salad. But the difference - and the reason it is not a crime - is that it is true to the spirit of a Caesar's salad and sings with flavors. I just cut out ninety percent of the fat so that I can have it frequently for lunch and still lose weight. Feel free to increase the amount of olive oil and add some paper thin shavings of Parmesan if you are not on a diet; you will undoubtedly be glad. But if you are looking for a relatively low calorie version of this classic salad, this is the one for you.

Low Calorie High Flavor Caesar's Salad (serves two generously, 4 WW points per serving)

2 medium Romaine heads
1-2 tomatoes (optional - they are not in season, so I omitted them)
1 slice of whole wheat bread
1 small tin of anchovies, rinsed
2 tsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1 tsp mustard
1/2 Tbs grated fresh Parmesan
juice of half a lemon
2-3 Tbs water
salt, pepper

Toast the slice of bread. Cut the clove of garlic in half and rub it on the bread thoroughly. Reserve the clove. Measure the olive oil into a small food processing basin and brush a minimal amount of it on the bread with a basting brush. Sprinkle with salt, cut in squares and set aside.

Add the anchovies (minus one or two if you like whole ones in your salad) to the basin, as well as the Parmesan, garlic clove, mustard, lemon juice and anchovies. Add a tablespoon of water and process. If necessary, add a bit more water to get the consistency you prefer. Pepper generously.

Wash and cut or rip the salad and spin it dry. In a large bowl, toss it with the dressing to coat thoroughly. Dress the plate with salad, tomatoes (if any) and bread croutons. Oh and the reserved anchovies (if any). Don't let any of the flavor go to waste!

Note on the photo: a keen eye will notice that I did NOT toss the salad with the dressing but instead drizzled it on the lettuce and croûtons. It actually is much nicer when you take the time to toss the lettuce, but I was only making one salad and was loath to dirty another dish.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at March 25, 2009 12:00 PM Print-friendly version

Tomatoes? In a Caesar? Pas de tout!

Posted by David on March 25, 2009 at 12:57 PM

Well, I DID say it was not authentic! When they are in season and sweet, I can't resist the combination of anchovies, Parmesan and tomatoes...I'm even tempted to leave out the lettuce in those circumstances!

Posted by Meg in Sussex on March 25, 2009 at 2:47 PM

the best salad ever!!!!

Posted by sab on March 25, 2009 at 4:30 PM

This recipe sounds great! I like to do a more creamier dressings using low fat/ fat free yoghurt, anchovies, garlic, salt and pepper, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce did I spell it right?) and just a little parmesan cheese..delicious!

Posted by M on March 26, 2009 at 8:48 AM

Forgot to mention..I just like to put it all in a blender and blend..adjust the amount of ingredients according to your taste

Posted by M on March 26, 2009 at 8:55 AM

hi my name is katy and i'm on the team at how2heroes,, a tasty cooking and food site featuring how-to videos from both master chefs and home cooks.

we just launched a bunch of amazing maple recipes and videos which i wanted to share with you. there's also a tour of drumlin farm in massachusetts - watch & learn all about how maple is made. recipes include: maple ice cream, oatmeal pecan maple thins (great for ice cream sandwiches!), maple pecan apple cake, maple brined pork chops, stuffed croissant french toast, maple bars and pecan-encrusted goat cheese w/ maple vinaigrette.
hope you enjoy!

Posted by Katy on March 31, 2009 at 12:04 PM

great recipe Meg! I've made it 3 times already. Thank you

Posted by David in AZ on April 9, 2009 at 8:51 AM

Caesar salad rules!

Posted by restaurant menu design on May 6, 2009 at 1:43 PM

Looks tasty...

Posted by Phil Younger on May 11, 2009 at 10:30 AM

finally agood recipe for ceasar salad. In the UK, not only the ceasar salad is bad. Most food there has no taste and usually no form either :)

Posted by chef knife happy on June 11, 2009 at 3:25 AM

I have to agree the thought of tomato's in this salad is very off putting. Not a particularly impressive recipe for caesars salad. I think 10 years travelling to and from the Uk wasn't enough and maybe you should try expanding your horizons to more than just eating at 'Subway'.
It's well known that the septics serve the worst food on this planet.

Posted by Joanna Cleaver on January 29, 2011 at 12:52 PM

I second that ^ Here is something i rustled up earlier!

Alarming statistics
In America, we drink a lot of cola (or "un-cola"). A lot. On average we each drink over 50 gallons of soda each year, and this figure includes infants, healthy folks, prisoners, etc., meaning that the average soda drinker actually gulps (their word) more than this. Carbonated soft drinks are the biggest single caloric source in the American diet. Teenagers, in particular, are hooked on the stuff and get an average of 13 percent of their daily calories from "pop." If this doesn't scare you, it should. In terms of sheer amount, these statistics could be alarming if it were any one food. A proper diet should have some balance and diversity. And soda pop is the antithesis of "any food." It's bad food.

Not sure they have any taste buds left. The best way to adapt a great tasting salad and make it far healthier without having to compromise on taste.... GET OFF YOUR FAT ARSE AND GO FOR A WALK AFTER YOU'VE EATEN IT!

Posted by George Davies on January 29, 2011 at 1:06 PM
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