by David Klemt

Happy Hundredth to the Caesar Salad!

by David Klemt

AI-generated image of a Caesar salad in a bowl on a table with a birthday cake on top of it

AI generated some truly unhinged abominations before creating this image.

In about a month you and your kitchen team have the opportunity to pull out all the stops and celebrate an iconic menu item with your guests.

Whereas it’s often difficult to impossible, in contrast, to trace the origins of classic cocktails, we know much of the history of this particular dish. Driven by a restaurant in Tijuana, the Caesar salad will receive recognition on its hundredth “birthday” on July 4.

Or, more accurately, Caesar’s Restaurante Bar is planning a festival to celebrate the salad during the first week of July.

Given the attention this festival is receiving, savvy operators can also plan promotions around the Caesar salad.

Origins: Known

First, let’s get one of the greatest misconceptions surround this salad out of the way. No, it’s not named for Julius Caesar.

Next, let’s dispel another myth. No, the Caesar salad wasn’t around in Rome during Caesar’s reign. Well over two thousand years separate his five-year rule and the creation of this salad.

Rather, the salad carries the name, quite simply, of its creator, Cesare Cardini.

In 1913, Cardini traveled to New York City, and then headed to Montréal. He would return to Italy eventually, then come back to the US in 1919.

Before heading to Tijuana, Cardini ran at least one restaurant in Sacramento. Per reporting, he chose Tijuanawhere he operated several restaurants and a hotelto get around Prohibition.

Cardini’s daughter Rosa shared the salad’s story in 1987 with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. According to Rosa, an overwhelming number of guests arrived at her father’s hotel a hundred years ago. Of course, these guests also slammed the restaurant.

Cardini didn’t have enough fresh veggies to feed everyone, so he chose to improvise. Part of that improvisation was putting on a performance, preparing the first-ever Caesar salad in the dining room in front of the guests.

So, tableside is the traditional, original preparation, an interesting detail.

More Misconceptions

The Caesar, in its original preparation, consists of a handful of specific ingredients. Cardini used romaine hearts, eggs, lemons, Worcestershire sauce, garlic-infused oil, Parmesan cheese, salt, and croutons.

However, per Rosa, it’s not just the namesake of the salad and its country of origin that people get incorrect. You’ll notice that anchovies aren’t among the ingredients. Neither are mayonnaise or Dijon mustard. And as far as the finer details, Rosa told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that her father didn’t use raw eggs. Instead, they had been coddled, or boiled for one minute.

Another mistake for which Rosa expressed her disdain is tableside preppers putting all of the ingredients into a bowl at the same time to toss them. There’s a proper order, and you’ll find it at the bottom of this article.

Finally, Rosa noted that the appropriate method of tossing the romaine hearts is to use a gentle, under-over rolling technique. This approach prevents bruising of the leaves when done correctly.

Now, guests visiting bars and restaurants in America will have expectations on the Fourth of July. It’s likely that celebrating the Caesar salad isn’t one of them. So, operators should consider promoting their Caesars in the days before and just after that major holiday.

The Original

Below, the proper order to prepare a traditional Caesar salad, per Rosa Cardini. Following the instructions will yield four servings.

I’m going to skip the steps of making the garlic-infused oil and croutons in house.

  1. The hearts (outer leaves removed) of two medium romaine lettuce heads  should be cold and crisp. These can be kept whole or broken into two-inch lengths.
  2. Pour four ounces of the infused oil over the leaves, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  3. Using the aforementioned proper technique, toss the leaves two or three times.
  4. Break the coddlednot raweggs over the leaves. Add eight to ten drops of Worcestershire sauce along with the juice of two lemons. Again, toss two or three times.
  5. Add six to eight tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and a half-cup of croutons (made with day-old white bread and a touch of the infused oil, traditionally), and toss again.
  6. Serve on chilled salad plates.

There you have it. The original preparation.

According to Rosa, many guests simply picked up the leaves and ate them like slices of toast. Today’s guests will likely prefer a fork, but that’s an interesting note.

Of course, people enjoy putting their spin on this classic dish. In particular, adding all manner of proteins is a popular way to personalize a Caesar salad.

Recently, I tried a Caesar to which Everything But the Bagel seasoning had been added. Not bad.

Given its adaptability, it could be a good idea to create an LTO Caesar menu with the original at the top, along with two or three variations.

And, hey, while you’re at it, consider offering a Caesar cocktail (another very customizable item) alongside the Caesar salad. Why not?

Image: Shutterstock. Disclaimer: This image was generated by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

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