The Best Salad in the World?
Jump to the end to download the definitive Caesar recipe or read along for the ride to end up there.
Salad is not something most people get excited about. It is often an afterthought pushed around the plate to make you look vaguely healthy.
Why has the Caesar salad risen to the plate filling status that we give it? Some say it is the lettuce, others the croutons, few say it's the anchovies, and most say the dressing.
We've all eaten something served up as homemade Caesar salad or at a restaurant, but Caesar salad ingredients and Caesar salad recipes (and quality) vary wildly.
This story rights the wrongs committed against the classic Caesar salad and sets out the best recipes and variations.
The Origin Story of Caesar Salad
Wind back the clock to Mexico in the 1920s, before Caesar salad was on the menu at every Cheesecake Factory and Texas Roadhouse.
In a restaurant in Tijuana, Italian Caesar Cardini invented the salad that still bears his name. Those seeking the authentic always ask for a Caesar Cardini or Cardini dressing.
Interestingly the recipe does not have anchovies in it; instead, it uses Worcestershire sauce for that piquant bite. It is a lovely recipe but quite minimalist compared to its modern, fully loaded descendants.
Caesar Salad Lettuce
If anyone tries to offer you a Caesar salad made with buttercrunch lettuce, or heaven forbid, kale, run, run for the hills. If Caesar dressing is the mortar, then Romaine lettuce leaves are the bricks.
The stiff, crunchy leaves of Romaine, also known as Cos lettuce, with their scoop-shaped cups make the perfect foundation to cradle toppings in the best Caesar salad.
The whole reason for this story came about because I had a lovely row of Romaine lettuces all ready at once in the garden, and we ate Caesar Salads for two weeks straight, trying all the different variations.
5 tips for growing Romaine lettuces:
- Space lettuces 20cm (8 inches) apart
- Plant nearby taller crops to provide some shade if you're in a hot area
- Keep the water up to them, or they will be bitter and stunted
- Harvest them when the heads feel firm and heavy, approximately 60 days.
- Don't try and regrow them from the roots after cutting. You're taking up valuable garden real estate for an inferior result. Just sow more seed once a month, so you always have new lettuces coming on.
The Best Croutons for Caesar Salad
Some people show up just for the croutons. What is not to love about fried bread masquerading as something healthy?
Sad, stale cubes of tooth-breakingly hard bread that are "ready-made" croutons have no place in the best Caesar salad or any salad for that matter.
One of the most successful elements from the traditional Caesar salad recipe is the way Cardini did the croutons. It is now my go-to recipe for croutons, whatever salad I'm making.
Caesar Crouton Recipe
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- ¼ teaspoon of sea salt
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 50 – 100 g (2 – 4 oz) of good white bread
- Cube and toast the bread until just crunchy in a low oven.
- Mash the garlic and salt to a smooth paste with a pestle and mortar and gradually mix in the olive oil.
- Strain the garlicky oil into a pan and warm it gently, then toss the bread cubes through it until well coated and set them aside.
Best Caesar Salad Dressing Recipe
The best Caesar dressing recipe is the one you love. But if you are new to homemade Caesar dressing and want to stop buying Kraft, we have you covered with these four dressing recipes.
Traditional Caesar Salad Dressing
The original Caesar dressing without anchovies is mixed on the salad when you serve it. For every head of lettuce, your Caesar dressing ingredients are:
- 75 ml (3 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil
- Juice from ½ a lemon
- 1 very soft boiled egg
- 4 drops of Worcestershire sauce
- Sea Salt and fresh ground black pepper
The method is to toss the well-dried lettuce leaves in the oil, season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce, and toss again, then finally crack the soft boiled egg and give a final toss before adding the grated Parmesan and croutons.
Given that the original was for guests visiting Tijuana to escape prohibition, I can see this dressing's hangover cure potential. Still, it is a bit raw eggy for me. When I add eggs I prefer them hard boiled to the jammy yolk stage, like the image below.
Creamy Caesar Dressing
My personal favorite and possibly the closest to modern Caesar dressings is a recipe I learned in 2005 from a day class at a fancy cook school. I've adapted it over the years into something approaching perfect.
You can get this, and the full salad recipe at the bottom of the page to download, print, and share.
Vegan Caesar dressing recipe
A dressing that relies on fish, eggs, and cheese for its flavor will be a tall order to make vegan friendly on the surface. However, it is surprisingly simple.
Replace the anchovies or Worcester sauce with a teaspoon of miso paste and replace the egg yolk and oil emulsion with ½ a cup of cashew nuts soaked overnight with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for flavor.
Blend all with water until you get the consistency you're after. The cheese you won't miss as the miso packs such a flavor punch.
Healthy Caesar Dressing
All food is healthy in moderation. But, if a dressing based on oil sends your calorie counter spinning, then try this Light Caesar Dressing from Kathi and Rachel at Laughing Spatula.
A healthy Caesar salad is also down to the other ingredients, not just the dressing. Go light on the oily croutons or replace them with baked cubes of sweet potato. Leave off the crispy bacon and add less grated Parmesan.
Chicken Caesar Salad Recipe
No story of the classic Caesar salad would be complete without a grilled chicken Caesar salad recipe. I have two methods for chicken Caesar:
Method 1: Marinade Chicken Breasts
Marinade chicken breast fillets in olive oil, lemon juice, and chopped fresh herbs for 30 minutes, then cook on a hot grill and set aside to rest. Slice onto the salad before serving.
Method 2: Leftover Turkey or Chicken
Slice leftover roast chicken and fry leftover bread and herb stuffing for croutons and sprinkle over the salad before serving. This roast Caesar salad also works brilliantly with Turkey leftovers.
However you enjoy your Caesar salad, please make it homemade. We'd love to hear your version of the classic Caesar, too, so please share.
Classic Caesar Salad Recipe
This recipe combines the traditional Caesar salad original recipe and the best of the modern variations.
It is easier than the original Caesar salad and an excellent foundation for adding toppings to make it a full meal.
Top this Caesar salad with chicken, smoked salmon or leftover turkey to turn it into dinner.
2 free range egg yolks
90ml (3 fl oz) white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 clove of fresh garlic
6 anchovy fillets (tinned, not salted)
8 sprigs of fresh parsley (a good handful)
1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of rice bran or grape seed oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves of fresh garlic (1 if you're not a fan)
1/2 a teaspoon of sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
50 g (2 oz) of good white bread (sourdough is great)
1 large Romaine Lettuce
2 soft boiled eggs
6 anchovies (optional if you're not a fan)
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Make the Dressing
Blend together egg yolks, vinegar, mustard, garlic, lemon juice, parsley, anchovies and salt until well mixed.
Slowly dribble in the oil while still blending. Keep blending until all the oil is added and the dressing is a pale yellow.
Make the Croutons
Cube and toast the bread until just crunchy in a low oven.
Mash the garlic and salt to a smooth paste with a pestle and mortar and gradually mix in the olive oil.
Strain the garlicky oil into a pan and warm it gently, then toss the bread cubes through it until well coated and set them aside.
Make the Salad
Wash the lettuce leaves, discarding any tough outer leaves. I like to trim the base of the leaves a little too.
Gently shake the water off the leaves or use a salad spinner to get them nice and dry.
Get a nice wide bowl and line it the the leaves. Gently dribble some of the dressing over the leaves and toss it gently until the leaves are nicely coated, not drowned, with dressing.
Arrange the leaves around the bowl so they are cup side up and then scatter the croutons, anchovies and quartered boiled eggs over the leaves.
Finish it with a dribble of dressing and a scattering of freshly grated Parmesan.
The dressing makes more than needed for the salad and it keeps in the fridge for a week.
If you're using salted anchovies in oil then leave the salt out of the dressing.
If you have a wooden salad bowl then use it to toss the salad in, but for the rest of us it is not essential.
Calories 44, Fat 2.1 grams, Saturated Fat .9 grams, Unsaturated Fat 1.2 grams, Cholesterol 5 milligrams, Sodium 83 milligrams, Carbs 4.3 grams, Fiber 1.6 grams