Classic Caesar Salad Recipe | Jackie Alpers
CAESAR SALAD DAYS
This is a story about choices, creativity, personal power, and a salad. Specifically, the 1967 Caesar of Cooking Joy salad.
My mother made this side of the salad table at a dinner in our house during her wildest single days. It had been an adults-only dinner and although I had been banished to my room for the night, I had sneaked downstairs to see the procedure I still remember well. I crouched behind a chair in our brightly lit living room and looked out over the adjacent dining room that was almost completely dark. I could still make out my mother’s shape as she stood in front of a group of unrecognizable guests and ceremoniously broke an egg into a large wooden salad bowl.
The idea of a salad that was so elegant that it had to be done in an almost dark ritual by the table intrigued me. Later I asked my mother to do it for my brother and me. When I finally tasted it, the splash of vinegar mixed with the salinity of anchovies and parmesan shocked my system and blew me away. As I drank the dressing left on the plate after the salad was gone, I remember being struck by the strength of my conviction. I had found something I liked that wasn’t based on the expectations no one else had of me.
Like most children, my life experiences were determined by my parents. I was forced to live where they said, eat what they cooked, and experience the chaos of their daily personal dramas without questioning or commenting. I had very little control over my experience.
Now, for the first time, I was realizing my personal taste. This dish… A salad, it stood out from everything else. It was something I enjoyed more than ice cream, or steak, or most of the other dishes I was subjected to.
was 10 or 11 years old when I first made the salad. I had found something I could love at a time in my life when I wasn’t having much fun. I could follow that recipe and do something for myself that I really enjoyed. I was in control of my own happiness in that sense. I found something I liked, and figured out how to do it myself. It was a small victory, but steady.
The dressing is more of a vinaigrette than the creamy, fattening versions found in many restaurants these days. Many people think it’s an Italian salad and it is, but they have the wrong Caesar in mind. It was developed in Tijuana, Mexico by César Cardini, an Italian immigrant. The version of Joy of Cooking is a little different from Cardini’s original, which contained no anchovies and was considerably more egg.
Over the years I’ve modified it a bit. I found that I don’t really need the raw egg as a binder, although sometimes I add a splash of Egg Beaters to give the dressing a little more body. I also skip the croutons to keep carbs low, and add even healthier anchovies full of Omega 3 for protein.
I am now 30 years and 3000 miles away from my childhood in the Midwest. My personal taste is a well-defined aspect of my personality from which I have been able to make a living. Can I give all the credit to a salad? Maybe.
Here is the original version: