There are many theories about who invented Caesar salad, but many of them point to a resourceful and deft restaurateur named Caesar Cardini. He was born in Italy, moved to San Diego, and then opened Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana to get around Prohibition. According to his daughter, the salad was created on a busy July 4 weekend in 1924, when Cardini scrambled to come up with salad for customers. He deployed ingredients on hand and voila, salad history was made. Over time, he and his brother Alex popularized the salad to broader audience with hotel and even bottled dressing.
I’d eaten Caesar salad for years before I realized its multi-cultural background. Once I did, the Italian-American-Mexican connection liberated me to experiment and created a lazy day Caesar salad with fish sauce.
From Lazy Day to Ancient Caesar
The reasoning for using fish sauce was this: Anchovies are assumed to be part of the original Caesar dressing. But let’s face it, not everyone has anchovy filets on hand to chop up for the dressing. And when you don’t chop them finely enough, they can hit your palate with their fishy, briny bite. On the other hand, fish sauce, being a liquid, easily commingles with the dressing ingredients. The condiment slips right in to impart an elegant, stealth umami flavor note. You never have to touch a tiny fish filet.
Along with the fish sauce, I skipped the whole egg emulsion and took a shortcut by subbing mayonnaise, which is an emulsion of egg, acid and oil. Creating an emulsion with egg isn’t something many people would do on a weeknight. The mayonnaise made the dressing less fussy, and you can make a smaller amount than usual.
My lazy day Caesar salad experiments resulted in an easygoing recipe that was easy to master and work into your regular rotation. That said, whenever I make it for guests, I sheepishly apologize about taking shortcuts.
This week, I decided to stop apologizing. I read that the original Caesar salad dressing did not employ anchovies. In fact, Cardini favored Worcestershire sauce, which I already knew as a fermented condiment that included anchovies. Moreover, some people say that Worcestershire is among modern extensions of garum’s legacy. So maybe I innately knew something all along when I embarked on my lazy, shortcut salad experiments!
Fish Sauce vs. Garum dressing
But with the State Bird garum freshly made and in the fridge, I wondered what it would be like in Caesar salad. My husband was right with me! “Let’s make an ancient Caesar salad!” he joked.
I responded by making two versions of the dressing – one with garum and one with fish sauce.
Which was better? The garum “ancient” Caesar salad had intriguing hints of spices that lent the salad small pops of flavor. The regular lazy day Caesar remained delicious but a little flat by comparison. My husband liked the regular lazy day version. I liked the garum one.
Our tiny family was split. If you have the State Bird garum on hand, use it! Otherwise, use regular fish sauce.
Crouton and Lettuce Tips
Admittedly, we don’t always have croutons with the salad. They take extra time to bake and cool. Additionally, when there’s bread somewhere else in the meal, I skip the croutons to avoid doubling up bready goodness. Of course, if you’re eating gluten-free, nix the croutons.
A light and airy bread works well because the croutons don’t bake up so dense and hard that they threaten to hurt your mouth. I type from experience because for this round of the salad, I chose a gorgeous rustic sourdough batard for the croutons. Alas, they were very hard and scraped the roof of my mouth.
When romaine is unavailable for this lazy day Caesar salad, make a tricolore: toss a mixture of radicchio, frisée, and arugula with the dressing and cheese. Or, instead of romaine, use all escarole.
Caesar salad has been around for nearly 100 years. It’s great with a variety of cuisines and it also bridges cuisines. With fish sauce or garum in the dressing, the lazy day Caesar salad practically circles the globe with all its cultural melding.
Vietnamese Food Any Day News
- The New York Times spotlighted the book again! Columnist Melissa Clark wrote up the umami noodles recipe for her column, Good Appetite.
- If you have the Spring 2019 issue of Saveur magazine, check out my Banh Mi primer. It’s a great feature in which I provide the Viet sandwich low-down and ideas for creating your own!
- Just up today — my conversation with Seattle KUOW’s Ruby de Luna. We visit Pike Place Market and discuss ingredients for making Viet Food. Listen to the podcast here.
Lazy Day Caesar Salad
- 5- inch section about 5 ounces ciabatta or similar type of bread
- Kosher salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Dressing and salad
- 1 clove garlic minced and mashed with the broad side of a knife or put through a press
- Black pepper freshly ground preferred
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce or State Bird Garum see link in Notes
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Leaves from 2 large romaine lettuce hearts washed and thoroughly dried (1 pound total)
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese use the smallest holes on a box grater
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Meanwhile, trim the crust from the break, then cut the naked results into 1/2 to 3/4-inch cubes. Put them into a bowl, toss with a sprinkling of kosher salt and 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Put on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, stirring midway, until crisp and golden. Cool before using.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic, scant 1/4 teaspoon pepper, fish sauce, lemon juice and mustard. Taste and tweak to make sure it’s pleasant. Whisk in the mayonnaise. Drizzle in the oil as you whisk to create an emulsion. Set aside, or refrigerate for up to 2 days.
- Leave the lettuce leaves whole or cut them crosswise into large pieces. Put the romaine into a large bowl and sprinkle on about 6 tablespoons of the cheese and some black pepper. Use your hands or tongs to gently toss and dust the leaves. Add most of the dressing and toss to coat well.
- Taste and season with more dressing, lemon juice, black pepper or a shot of fish sauce. The flavor of the romaine will dictate your tweaks. Divide among salad plates. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese and if you like, extra black pepper.