To make an amazing classic Caesar salad you need to start with crisp lettuce, pour on a killer homemade Caesar dressing, add my special fried croutons, and finish with shavings of aged parmesan.
Many years ago when my husband and I were just dating we went on a vacation to Cancun, Mexico. It was such a fun vacation and while we were there we went to a wonderful restaurant which followed the old standard of making your Caesar salad right in front of you. Dinner and show! 🙂
And it was delicious. At that point in my life I did not know Caesar salad could be that good!
This began my quest to make the BEST ever.
Components of a Classic Caesar
Like many favorite recipes, Caesar is all about a few ingredients done well. No tired lettuce, or bottled dressing, or stale croutons. I have had all of these at various restaurants in my life and I say we can do better!
Let’s look at the components:
Optional, and a bit of an acquired taste – Oil packed anchovies. I like the style in the jars for both their flavor and storability (just put the top back on and into the fridge).
How to make this
To make a traditional Caesar salad start by making fresh dressing with egg yolk, olive oil, and lemon. Arrange romaine leaves on a plate, top with croutons, then add homemade dressing and finish with shavings of Parmesan cheese.
1. Creamy Caesar Dressing
(See my post on homemade Caesar dressing for an expanded discussion and photos of making the recipe.)
To make the dressing start with the egg yolk, salt, mustard, and a little lemon juice. Use a big, balloon whisk and whisk briskly until you see the color of the yolk lighten then darken.
Now begin adding the oil in a thin, steady stream while continuing to whisk steadily and ed. The emulsion will become thick and yellow. This is when it’s nice to have a helper. One person to whisk and the other to pour in the oil.
Once you’ve added the oil, add the remaining ingredients – garlic, Worcestershire, anchovy, and lemon juice to taste.
Then (and here’s my favorite part!), drizzle in a little cold water, just a bit at a time and whisk until the dressing gets light colored and pourable.
No helper? Try using mixing bowls with non-slip rings on the bottom. That’s what I use!
2. Fresh Croutons
(See my post on olive oil fried croutons for an expanded discussion and photos of making the recipe.)
For the croutons, any leftover country-style dinner bread is going to be great. You need a chewy bread for these! A soft or crumbly bread will fall apart or soak up too much oil.
Start with your bread and cut off any hard parts or thick crust. Then break it up into rustic, bite-sized pieces. All the crags and crannies are going to make the croutons even better.
Now warm up some oil in a skillet and add two smashed garlic cloves. Let them sizzle for a few minutes and flavor the oil.
Remove them and add the bread. Turn to coat with oil and let the bread slowly brown on low heat until the croutons are crisp on the outside but still a little soft in the middle. Get them right onto a plate to stop them cooking and top with a sprinkle of salt.
And then DON’T EAT THEM before using them in the salad!! This can be difficult. Be strong. 🙂
3. Assembling the Salad
The next two elements of the salad are the romaine and the Parmesan cheese. No mystery with the romaine I believe. 🙂 As for the cheese, since that flavor is such a big part of a caesar salad, I like to use a nice chunk of Italian Parmesan and shave off thin pieces with a peeler. Yum!
I know anchovies are the definition of an acquired taste, so those are optional. Well…when I say optional, I mean the whole anchovies on top of the salad. Those are optional. If you want a vegetarian salad, leave out all the anchovies of course, but, for non-vegetarians add some anchovy paste or minced anchovies to the dressing. You won’t be sorry.
What is a good substitute for romaine?
With romaine lettuce off the shelves on regular basis these days (or just because you want something different), it’s good to look at the options for other greens. Here are a few I like which will work with with the thick dressing. Just remember no baby greens! You’ll need larger, sturdier leaves
- Kale – This is the most obvious choice! Popular, hearty, and plenty able to stand up to creamy dressings.
- Chard/Arugula/Spinach – Here are a variety of easy to find greens all of which would make a great Caesar. Maybe a mix!
- Iceberg – Not popular (wedge salads notwithstanding) but iceberg is seriously crisp and won’t wilt on you.
- Belgian Endive – A little hard to find and a bit expensive, but endive is quite similar in flavor and texture to romaine.
If you try my recipe for Classic Caesar Salad, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
– Happy Eating, Annemarie
The Best Classic Caesar Salad Recipe
Olive Oil Fried Croutons
- 6-8 oz country style dinner bread, broken into bite-sized pieces
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- kosher salt
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice, divided, 1 tsp to start and the rest later
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2-3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp anchovy paste, or minced anchovies (optional)
- 1 clove garlic, finely mince or grated
- 2 heads romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed
- 1 oz parmesan cheese, shaved into thin sheets or shredded
- anchovies, optional
Olive Oil Fried Croutons
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium low. Add the garlic and saute until just beginning to color, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the pieces of bread and spread them out in a single layer in the skillet, turning to coat the bread in the olive oil. Cook at a low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring as needed, until the croutons are golden brown and crisp on the outside. Adjust the heat if the croutons are browning too fast.
- Transfer the fried croutons to a towel lined plate and sprinkle with kosher salt.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolk with 1 tsp of the lemon juice, the mustard, and a pinch of salt. The color of the yolk will change to light yellow and then darken again. Once it darkens, it's ready to add the oil.
- Pour the oil in very slowly at first while whisking vigorously. Keep whisking and add the oil in a light, but steady, stream. (You can stop to rest as needed. Begin whisking again before adding more oil when you are ready to start.)
- Once the oil is all incorporated, add the remaining lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, anchovies, and garlic. Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding salt and more of the other flavors as needed.
- Now add cold water by small spoonfuls and whisk it in until the dressing lightens up and becomes pourable.
- Divide the romaine lettuce among four plates, leaving smaller leaves whole and slicing large leaves.
- Top each plate with some of the fried croutons.
- Drizzle dressing over and arrange some parmesan shavings around the lettuce. Add fresh anchovies if you wish.
- Dressing: For more tips and information about the dressing visit my Homemade Caesar Dressing post. You may not need all the dressing. It will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Just give a stir or a shake before using it on your salad.
- Croutons: See my Olive Oil Fried Croutons post for an expanded discussion of making the croutons.
- Making More Dressing: You may add up to 1/2 cup of oil to one egg yolk - more than that will be too much for the yolk - so if you want more dressing feel free to use the 1/2 cup instead 1/3 cup. The dressing recipe is also easily doubled, just start with 2 yolks and go from there.
- Lettuce: If romaine is unavailable, you can switch to any sturdy green. Kale, chard, endive, spinach, iceberg, and other crispy greens. Note that baby greens will not work - for instance baby spinach will wilt under the dressing while large spinach leaves will hold up beautifully.