4.28.14 Hail Caesar
This is just the sort of thing you'll find clinging to chef April Bloomfield's Caesar salad, available at the Breslin and from room service at the Ace. Its intact leaves of romaine serve as little boats for the wildly addictive dressing and there are just enough jagged croutons in there to keep things interesting. A couple of slim, russet-colored anchovy fillets are laid on top and the whole thing is showered with finely grated Parmesan. Of course just to leave us home cooks in the dust, she has to go and garnish the salad with a scattering of fried parsley that comes as close to gilding the lily as possible without falling short of genius. Was Mr. Cardini's version this brilliantly calibrated? All I know is, I could eat April's salad every day of the week.
The dressing is one of the best things you will ever make. I would devour shredded day-old newspaper if it were tossed with this stuff. And it's not really like other Caesar dressings I've made (here's one; here's another); there's no mustard powder, no Worcestershire sauce, no olive oil and no lemon juice, (although I actually tweaked this recipe the tiniest bit to add a little lemon juice.) But it does call for anchovies, the salt-cured kind. They're pretty much the gold standard as far as preserved anchovies, meatier and firmer than the oil-packed ones. They come gutted, with their heads removed but the bones intact. Look for them in any good Italian market.
"Rinse the anchovies one at a time under cold-running water, rubbing them gently between your fingers to get the salt off. Put them in a small bowl and add just enough water to cover. After about a minute—if you soak them for too long, they'll lose their umami quality—give them another quick rinse.
To fillet the anchovies, hold an anchovy under cold-running water. Pull off the loose muck near the head and at the belly. Rub the outside to remove any remaining salt or hard bits. Keeping the anchovy under the water, gently work a fingertip along the belly to start to separate the fillets. Gently pull the fillets apart—this should be easy, especially once you get the hang of it. Drape the now-boneless fillet over the edge of a bowl to drain. Pinch the backbone and gently pull it away from the second fillet; discard it. Put the second fillet next to the first, and do the same with the rest of the anchovies."
If you're not going to use whole salt-cured anchovies, your next best bet is the oil-cured fillets; anchovy paste, with its somewhat murkier, fishier taste, is a dim third.
very lightly adapted from April Bloomfield
- — 7 whole salt-packed anchovies, rinsed, soaked, and filleted
- — 2 smaliish garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- — 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- — 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
- — 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- — 1 large egg
- — 1 cup expeller-pressed sunflower or grapeseed oil
- — 1 ounce Parmesan, very finely grated
- — 2 heads romaine lettuce, chilled
- — Croutons, use your favorite method
- — A chunk of Parmesan for grating
- — Maldon or another flaky sea salt
- — A few anchovy fillets for garnish, optional
Put the anchovy fillets and garlic in a small food processor and pulse to a rough paste. Add the mustard, vinegar and lemon juice, crack the egg, and blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. With the processor on, gradually drizzle in the oil in a steady stream. Finally, add the Parmesan and blend until it's all well combined. Scrape the dressing into a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, then pop it into the fridge to chill and thicken up. (It'll keep for up to 3 days).
Trim the root ends of the Romaine heads and discard the large, floppy outer leaves. Separate the remaining leaves and put them in a very large mixing bowl. Refrigerate the leaves until they are nice and cold.
Pour in about 1/2 cup of the dressing. I like to use my fingers to gently rub this dressing onto both sides of the leaves, so you get a little bit everywhere. Gradually add more dressing, just until it's all nicely coated. Be nimble and fast like a salad ninja, because you don't want your hands to warm up the lettuce and dressing.
Add the croutons and toss a few times so they get a touch of the dressing. Then add a little more dressing if you need to. (I usually end up using about half the dressing and saving the rest in the fridge for another day.)
Layer the leaves of the salad, so they face this way and that and so they're not all in a clump, on a platter and scatter the croutons here and there. Garnish with the anchovies. Grate some Parmesan on top, taste, and add a little salt, if you'd like. Eat it immediately while still cold—preferably with your hands.