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Wednesday, March 7, 2007 09:11 pm

Caesar magic

Get your old-school salad groove on

Untitled Document I grew up in the 1970s, also known as the “good old days,” when eating in a restaurant was a special event, like going to the circus. Fancy restaurants were slim on cuisine but heavy on spectacle and theater. There was the exotic Benihana, where robe-clad culinary magicians would stir-fry steak before your eyes, or the generic “Continental” dining room, where tuxedoed waiters would set a plate of bananas on fire and call it Foster. It was magical and felt downright glamorous. Although most of these dining-room magic shows have gone out of vogue with Jell-O desserts, there’s one staple that keeps on truckin’, continuing to make us feel fabulous in a new century. The diehard in question is the Caesar salad, found on menus everywhere and often done badly. If you’re lucky enough to be in the right dining room at the right time, however, you can get your old-school Caesar groove on, which means having your salad prepared for you to order, tableside. It’s challenging to find such grand culinary theater these days — precisely why you should consider transporting the magic show into your own kitchen. If the dude in the tuxedo can make one, you can, too — in about five minutes. Romaine lettuce is key, as is some kind of crouton item, preferably rubbed with garlic. Then it’s a matter of the vinaigrette, comprising a few basic components but which can be adjusted according to taste buds. Anchovies are often subject to debate, as is the matter of the raw egg, so you decide. I prefer to use eggs from my local farmers’ market, which means a fresher raw product that’s been subject to less handling. Still nervous? “Coddle” your egg — boil it for one minute, then plunge it into an ice bath to stop the cooking, and proceed. Either way, let’s get fabulous.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at
Caesar Salad Half a baguette or hunk of crusty bread,    slightly stale, cut into half-inch slices Three garlic cloves, peeled One head Romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed,    washed and dried Two anchovy fillets Juice of one lemon 1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce One large egg At least 1/4 cup olive oil Salt and pepper to taste 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or to taste
Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Place bread slices on a baking sheet and allow them to crisp, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately rub one of the garlic cloves directly onto one side of the toast. Slice bread into bite-sized pieces and set it aside. Place inner leaves and hearts of Romaine into a large salad bowl. Tear the lettuce with your hands if you prefer smaller pieces. With a mortar and pestle, smash the anchovies and remaining two cloves of garlic, with a dash of salt, until a paste forms. Plan B: Use blender and puree everything. In a small bowl, add lemon juice, garlic-anchovy paste, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce and whisk to combine. Add egg, whisking until blended. While whisking, gradually add olive oil until incorporated. Taste for oil/acid balance and add more oil, if necessary. Taste for salt and pepper; add accordingly. Pour half of the vinaigrette over the lettuce and toss with tongs until the leaves are well-coated. Add the rest of the vinaigrette as necessary. Add toasts and Parmesan and toss again. Serve immediately. Makes enough for two or three Caesar lovers.
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