The Original Caesar’s Salad

Posted by

Back in 1989, an old friend shared a recipe for Caesar’s Salad from the original Caesar’s Bar & Grill at Caesar’s Hotel in Tijuana. Little did he know their business card had the recipe printed on the back! Here’s a picture the card in all its tattered, food-stained glory.

As you can see, Caesar’s claims that they are the “home of the original Caesar’s Salad.” Curious as to the validity of this claim, I did a little research. Turns out that the chef and owner of the hotel, Caesar Cardini was actually born in Italy. He immigrated to the United States in the 1910’s, opened a restaurant in Sacramento and later another in San Diego. To escape prohibition, he moved to Tijuana and opened Caesar’s Bar & Grill in 1923 and Hotel Caesar in 1930.

But how did he come up with this now famous recipe? Here’s a little history and photo of Caesar’s salad from their website:

“The story goes like this. One day Cardini wanted to treat some friends for dinner, but he had practically nothing to offer them. As good friends do, they told him not to worry and just serve an appetizer. He then ran into the kitchen and used what was at hand: he took a bowl and placed some lettuce made into small pieces to make them seem abundant and then prepared a dressing with all ingredients available. …In his honor, the salad was given his name, and in honor of this salad, each year a festival is held where around 30 local restaurants participate.”

In 2019, BBC Travel writer L. Sasha Gora journeyed to Tijuana to see what all the excitement was about and described just how this salad is prepared:

“The performance commences when the waiter rolls over the salad cart. The appointed ensaladero server tips a small spoonful of minced garlic into a large wooden bowl, and then adds mustard, plump anchovy fillets and a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. The server cracks an egg, and, with two carefully balanced spoons, drains the shell and tosses the yolk into the bowl. The waiter then squeezes in some lime juice, and zealously stirs everything in the bowl with wooden tongs. While stirring, the ensaladero drizzles in the olive oil and finely grated Parmesan cheese. …Once the dressing is mixed into more than the sum of its parts, the server tips in a plate of fresh romaine leaves and gently tosses everything together. The waiter then plates the salad, covering the leaves with a grinding of black pepper, a single, plain crostini and even more Parmesan cheese.”

The Original Caesar’s Salad is still available at Caesar’s Restaurante-Bar and prepared table-side just like it was in the 1920’s. As you can see from Sasha’s description and the photo from Caesar’s website (above) their dressing includes limes (not lemons), mustard and anchovies. To my surprise, these ingredients are omitted from the recipe printed on their business card. Seems kind of fishy to me…perhaps they didn’t want to share all their secrets! Not to worry, I discovered their oversight and made some adaptations.

I’ve been making this salad for over 33 years now and I guarantee you’re going to love it as much as my family and friends do! Make sure you whip up a batch of my tasty Homemade Croutons because a crouton in every bite makes this salad even better!


The Original Caesar’s Salad

  • 3 medium heads romaine lettuce (chilled, dry, crisp) torn into small pieces
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 anchovy filets or 2 tsp anchovy paste
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 raw egg
  • Juice of 1 ½ lemons (or 2 limes)
  • 1-2 T wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 5-6 T grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup croutons
  • Fresh ground pepper and salt to taste

Mix minced garlic and mustard in a bowel. Add anchovies and smash with the back of a spoon. Add Worcestershire sauce, egg yolk, lemon or lime juice and vinegar; whisk until combined. Drizzle in olive oil while whisking to thicken dressing. Fold in parmesan cheese, salt and fresh ground pepper. Place lettuce and ½ of croutons in a large salad bowl. Add dressing and toss to cover lettuce leaves. Garnish with remaining croutons and more parmesan cheese. Serve chilled.


Root Notes

  • Since garlic oil isn’t readily available, I just use garlic cloves. Garlic can be strong so start with one and add more to taste.
  • You can use any kind of mustard but I find that Dijon compliments the other ingredients well.
  • Anchovies are very salty so go easy on the added salt! When using filets, remove them from the can and squish with the back of a spoon or fork. Freeze remaining filets for another batch of dressing.
  • Raw eggs are can be a concern unless they are pasteurized so check the fine-print on the carton. Since pasteurized eggs aren’t as readily available, I often substitute 1 T of olive oil mayonnaise for the raw egg.
  • I’ve always used lemon juice as the original business card indicates. Just for fun, I tested lime juice as featured in Caesar Cardini’s table-side recipe. which was a littl e more tart but very tasty. In fact, I may never go back to lemons!
  • The original Caesar’s salad is made with a single plain crostini instead of croutons. Make my Homemade Croutons for more crunchy goodness in every bite!
  • Canola oil is usually the first ingredient in store-bought dressings. The Original Caesar’s  dressing is Family Food Roots-friendly because it includes fresh ingredients and olive oil instead of less heart-healthy oils. 
  • I often whip up this dressing in a Magic Bullet to make sure the garlic and anchovies are well incorporated. I start with the garlic and lemon or lime juice, then add the anchovies and blend until well pureed. Add the rest

 

2 comments

  1. Sounds delicious. I also like your idea to substitute mayonnaise for the egg. Thanks for the interesting history.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s