Friday, April 10, 2009

Et Tu, Brute? - Romaine Betrayal

This is actually Post #100 for me...YAY!!! So I think a food origin post is kind of fitting in a way. Just a warning before you start reading this. I am very passionate about Caesar Salad.... ;)

Food Origin: The Caesar Salad

Just like the Colosseum of Rome (Flavian Amphitheatre), The Pantheon and the Dome of Florence. The Caesar salad is an architectural masterpiece of Italian ingenuity. Named after its creator, Caesar Cardini, not Julius Caesar or Caesar Augustus, the salad was originally prepared table side by Caesar himself in his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, from the 1920s thru 1940s.

Contrary to popular belief, and reinforced by shoddily pre-made bottled dressings of your local grocery chain, the original Caesar Salad did NOT contain actual anchovy; the slight whisper of anchovy flavor comes from Worcestershire sauce. Cardini was hotly opposed to using anchovies in his salad. The confusion, methinks, lies in the fact that Caesar’s brother, Alex, is responsible for another salad craze, the Aviator Salad, which DID contain anchovy.

There is a Cardini's Caesar dressing available in the Mega-Mart, produced by the family, sadly though, due to modern manufacturing practices, it is now made with Soybean oil (Blech!!) instead of Extra Virgin Olive oil (Yum!). Here is also where another issue rears its ugly head (of lettuce)…

Caesar is a “salad”, not a “dressing”… Does that make sense? Maybe I should rephrase that.
It is a preparation of Romain Lettuce leaves topped with croûtons, not a dressing to be dumped on lettuce leaves and there is NO chicken involved whatsoever.
The salad is actually built in the bowl as you toss, layer by layer, each addition building and transforming on the foundation of what came before.

It is magnificent in its simplicity, divine in flavor and inspired in technique.

Now like any good construction project, you need building materials. This will require a little work. For you need Croûtons. No, do not go BUY croûtons. This is why the French snub their noses at American cuisine… Croûtons are the easiest thing in the world to make, and yet most of us go to the Mega-mart and buy them in bags… Ew! The only sad news to this is that you will need a mortar and pestle, you cannot use a blender. Garlic has emulsifying powers just like egg yolks and mustard, so if you try to use a blender, you will end up with aioli. Which is still tasty, and the proper form of aioli instead of garlicy mayonnaise, but it will not work for making croûtons.

Garlic Croûtons:
3 cloves of Garlic
1/4 tsp Sel Gris or Fleur de Sel (You need something that can abrade the garlic)
1/4 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
2 cups of 1/2 inch cubed day old Italian Bread

In a mortar & pestle, pulverize the garlic with salt.
Add Extra Virgin Olive oil (Go for something fruity).
Stir into a slurry-ish type substance and let it set while you…
Cut up your bread into 1/2 inch cubes.
Dry in a 325 degree oven (about 5 minutes - do not let them brown)
Strain oil into a skillet over medium heat and fry the dried croûtons, tossing until all oil is absorbed and the croûtons turn golden brown.
Set them aside

(Try not to eat them while performing the next steps, I know it’s hard to resist warm croutons... Well, snitching 1 or 2 won't really hurt...)

Next you will need Coddled Eggs. What the heck is a coddled egg? A coddled egg are gently cooked. Instead of being boiled, it gets simmered. It can also be done in a doohickey (technical term) similar to a bain marie. The egg is cracked into a little cup, and the cup is placed in simmering water. In America, these gizmos (again, technical term) are sold as Egg Poachers which they are not, they are egg coddlers.

Coddled Eggs:
2 Large Eggs

Bring 2 cups of water just to a boil
Meanwhile, prepare a bowl with water & ice
When the water just reaches a boil, remove from heat and let it set 30 seconds
Immerse 2 eggs in hot water for 1 minute and 1 minute ONLY

Remove and immediately place in ice bath to stop cooking.

I am also pretty sure that this recipe will work if egg substitutes are used for those concerned about salmonella. I have not tried to use them personally, but there are also pasteurized eggs available on the market. Although I have some qualms about consuming irradiated foods. The dip in the 200 degree water will kill the Salmonella Enterica living ON the shell.
According to the US Dept of Health, cooking at temperature of 72°C/160°F or more is sufficient to kill salmonella.
I also dug this up on the CDC website regarding Salmonella Enteritidis (in the egg itself)... “Only a small number of hens seem to be infected at any given time, and an infected hen can lay many normal eggs while only occasionally laying an egg contaminated with the Salmonella bacterium.”
To me, this means that the chances of catching salmonella are so minuscule, that they are hardly even worth mentioning.

Romaine Lettuce:
2 heads of Romaine lettuce outer leaves removed (16oz);
Remove the core, separate the leaves.
Wash and then Dry them well, or the oil will not adhere to the leaves and your dressing will crumble to the ground (The wise man build his house upon the rock, not the sand)
It is your choice whether you leave the leaves whole or tear them in to more manageable pieces.

(Yes I tear, cause you will have to chill the leaves after drying them so if you cut them, the edges will brown, please tear the leaves)
Keep well chilled until ready to toss.

Shred your Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Normally I am not a stickler for cheese… I mean, ALL cheese is good. I tend to waffle between Asiago d’Allevo, Pecorino Romano, Parmegiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano all the time (except for Pasta Carbonara – Pecorino Romano only). But in this case Romano and Asiago are too sharp and Grana Padano is just to mild. So this is one of the few cases where I will say “It’s ALL ABOUT THE PARM”. I don’t mean “Parmesan” either (no green can). It’s only 1 1/2 oz.... It’s worth it.

OK, now that all the building materials are amassed, it’s time to bring in the heavy equipment.

1 Very large Bowl (In this case wider is better than deep)
2 Salad Tossers (one for each hand.)

OK, Lets recap to make sure we have everything:

16 oz Romaine Lettuce; Cleaned, dried and chilled
6 TB Extra Virgin Olive oil
Kosher salt
10 Grinds of Black Pepper
1 - 1 1/2 lemons (it will depend on how big your lemons are 1 large or 1 1/2 medium).
9 Dashes of Worcestershire
2 Coddled Large Eggs
1 1/2 oz Shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese; plus a little more for serving (optional)
Freshly Made Garlic Croûtons

Let’s cut the ribbon, break ground and build ourselves an Edifice of Lettuce:

Place Romaine in the bowl and toss with 3 TB of the Olive oil, just enough to lightly coat the leaves.

Sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher Salt and 10 grinds black pepper and remaining 3TB olive oil and toss well.

Use a kind of rolling motion to move the leaves around, this minimizes bruising.
Squeeze the Lemon juice over the leaves

as well as the Worcestershire and toss again, briefly.

Crack Coddled eggs over leaves and toss until the eggs create an emulsion of lemon juice and olive oil.

Your ingredients will achieve a creamy consistency, kind of very pale beige.

Sprinkle with shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

and toss to incorporate.

Serve with Croûtons on large Plates,

with Prosseco or Asti… The gentle bubbles in Spumanti and Frizzante style wines intensify the flavors.

Caesar Salad on Foodista


Bob said...

Mmmm, Caesar salad. Heh, my dad gets all pissed off when caesar salad doesn't have anchovies. I can't wait to tell him there isn't supposed to be any. :)

Bertha P said...

The risk of Salmonella Enteriditis is definitely worth mentioning -- especially for those in high risk groups: children under 10, pregnant women, the elderly and anyone whose immune system is compromised due to medication or illness.

The effects of salmonella, or any other foodborne illness, can be devastating.

I don't mind being the "bad guy" here. Pasteurized shell eggs are available in some areas. If your store doesn't have them, YOU SHOULD DEMAND THEM. Safe food should be accessible to everyone!

Bertha P said...

Did you hear about the recall of organic eggs at Safeway? Not many people did.

Aline said...

Hmmm I am very curious as to whether fleur de sel actually gives some kind of flavour at all here or if you use it simply as seasoning (which, don't get me wrong, but I think would be an absolute shame considering the product - fleur de sel is the king of salts).
We usually use it on cooked food, and I do mean ON as it's usually sprinkled on top of meat, like a gigot (leg of lamb), when served or just before serving.
Fleur de sel is usually less salty but much more flavourful than salt.

Culinary Alchemist said...

Bertha - No, I had not heard about the recall. I usually end up purchasing eggs at Trader Joe's though.

Aline - I am not sure, I use Sel Gris more often than Fleur de Sel, because the crystals are courser which makes pulverizing the garlic easier. For the salad itself, I simply use Kosher Salt.

Michele said...

Congrats on your 100th post! I went through a ceasar salad phase a few years ago and have been over it for a while. Your photos do make me want to have one again though!