by Raymond Blanc from Simply Raymond: Recipes from Home (Headline)
Photography: Chris Terry
As with so many of the classics, there’s a delightfully charming tale behind Caesar Salad. Let me take you back to America’s Prohibition era of the 1920s … thirsty Californians crossed the nearby border to drink – and occasionally eat – in the Mexican town of Tijuana. There, a restaurant called Caesar’s Place became hugely popular. Everyone liked the charismatic Italian-American owner, Cesare Cardini, but they fell in love with the salad that he served. I am sorry to tell you it is not named after an emperor, but my God, it is definitely a dish fit for one – crunchy, crisp, fresh and bursting with full-on flavours. Here’s my take on the salad. Try the dressing as a dip with crisps or slices of raw celery and carrots.
Serves 4 as a light lunch, snack or starter
Prep: 5 mins
Cook: 10 mins
2 romaine (also known as cos) lettuces
8 slices of smoked streaky bacon (or 200g bacon lardons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
For the Caesar dressing
1 garlic clove
15g Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra to finish
6 anchovy fillets, in oil, plus extra to finish
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
5 tablespoons Mayonnaise (shop-bought or see recipe below)
few turns of ground black pepper
1 tarragon sprig
4 flat-leaf parsley sprigs
Chop away the woody base of the lettuces, but keep the lettuces whole and intact. Now slice the lettuces into quarters and put these to one side.
Dice the bacon into pieces of about 2cm.
Coarsely chop the peeled garlic and grate the cheese.
Begin by making the dressing. Blend all the dressing ingredients in a food processor or using a stick blender to create a smooth sauce. Put the dressing to one side or refrigerate until required (you can make it 1–2 days in advance).
Heat the oil in a large non-stick frying pan on a medium–high heat.
Add the bacon pieces and sauté for 4–5 minutes, or until they are golden and slightly crisp. Use a slotted spoon to remove the bacon and lay it on kitchen paper, leaving the fat in the pan. Return the pan to a medium heat, lay the lettuce quarters in the hot pan, cut-side down, and pan-fry them, without turning, for 2–3 minutes, until the leaves are golden brown on one side. Turn and brown the other cut side. Remove the pan from the heat.
Caesar Salad is at its most imperial when served in a shallow bowl or dish.
Arrange the lettuce halves, coloured side up, in the bowl. Spoon the crispy bacon over the lettuce and spoon the dressing over the bacon. Finely chop the tarragon and coarsely chop the parsley, combine the two herbs on the chopping board and then sprinkle them over the salad. Sprinkle with shavings of Parmigiano and add a few whole anchovy fillets. Serve.
For the Mayonnaise
2 medium yolks (preferably organic or free-range eggs)
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
150ml groundnut oil (or vegetable or sunflower oil)
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Pinch of sea salt flakes
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon lemon juice
In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and mustard until fully incorporated. Continuing to whisk, slowly add the oil in a steady trickle and you’ll see how it thickens. Next, whisk in the vinegar salt, cayenne pepper and lemon juice.
Taste, and adjust the seasoning accordingly.