A French Caesar Salad? Mais Oui!

Les Salades: A cookbook I purchased in France—the cover shot is a Caesar Salad.

Food lore has it that the Caesar salad was invented by Caesar Cardini, an Italian restaurateur working in Tijuana, Mexico. That hasn’t stopped les françaises from knowing a good thing when they see it. Indeed, I’ve seen Salade Caesar now and then in French restaurants and in cookbooks Certainly it’s not as ubiquitous as it is here…..but I must say that if and when the French do Caesar Salad, they do it well.

In fact, I found a recipe for Caesar Salad in this French cookbook I picked up a few trips ago—and the fact that the salad was chosen for the cover of the book says something about its popularity.

The version in this book puts the anchovies where they truly belong: In the dressing. Whisking mashed anchovies (or anchovy paste) into the lemony-garlicky dressing is the key to getting the insistent bite of the salad. I also like the way the eggs are medium-cooked rather than hard-cooked–they’re simply more luscious that way.

Over the years I’ve perfected the Caesar salad, borrowing from this book as well as from  a recipe of a private dining club I worked at many years ago. The dining club used a coddled (that is, almost raw) egg, which added beautiful body to the dressing. That’s a no-no in today’s food-safety-concious days, so I’ve gotten around the issue by using a tablespoon of mayonnaise: After all, mayo is, at its heart, made of eggs and oil—you’ll get the body and a bit of creaminess, while avoiding food-safety concerns.

Once you have this lemony-anchovy-ey-garlicky recipe, you’ll never look at the usual dumbed-down Caesar salad again.

French Caesar Salad
Serves 4 to 6

2 large eggs
1 head romain lettuce, rinsed, patted dry, and refrigerated in paper towels for 1 to 3 hours
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Medium cook the eggs: Place eggs in a saucepan; add enough water to cover. Bring the water to boil; cover the pan with the lid. Remove the pan from the heat and allow the eggs to stand 10 minutes. Rinse under cool running water until cool enough to handle; peel and set aside while you make the salad.

1. Tear the lettuce so that each leaf is about 3 to 4 inches long. Set aside.

2. Whisk the mayo, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and anchovy paste together in the bottom of a large salad bowl. Add the lettuce; toss to coat. Add the cheese and croutons; toss again. Slice each egg in half and arrange them atop salad. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

PS: I LOVE serving this salad when I’m serving winter braises. The bright, fresh salad contrasts long-simmering meats beautifully. In summer, this baby is brilliant with grilled meats.


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