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Forget about Caesar Salad being first made by some guy in Mexico. This salad/dressing bears the same relation to Caesar as a symphony orchestra does to a music box. By itself, with some chewy bread and a good companion, it's a nice small meal, alongside a plate of spaghetti with Prego and chopped meat, a big glass of Diet Coke (or Gallo Hearty Burgundy) and a good dense math book, it's one of the ways to achieve geek Nirvana. Coolest of all, it was actually invented by Alexandre Dumas, Sr. that fine gentleman of color from the Indies, the man who wrote "The Three Musketeers", and a lot of other great books.

Here it is, in his own words:

"First of all, I place a plate over my salad bowl, in which the salad has already been installed, and turn it upside down. I then put the plate, now heaped with salad, at my side, and the empty salad bowl in front of me. I put into the salad bowl one hard-boiled egg yolk for two people, that is to say six for a dozen diners. I mash them up in olive oil to make a paste, to which then I add, French parsley, mashed tuna, pounded anchovies, the mustard of Maille, a generous tablespoonful of soya sauce, tiny gherkins (chopped up), and the whites of the eggs (also chopped up). I dilute all this with the best vinegar with I have been able to procure.

Finally, I put the salad back into the salad bowl and let my servant toss it. And I let fall on it, from a height a pinch of paprika.

--translation, Alan and Jane Davidson.

Not usually having a dozen diners, a servant or a pre-loaded salad bowl, here are my notes, with all due respect for the Master: the greens are best a fairly rich mesclun mix, Italian (flat) is better than French, for this, and for one or two people I usually use a tablespoonful of oil-packed solid white tuna, including the oil, which I mash into the egg paste with a spoon. In place of pounded anchovies, I use a (pea-sized) dab of anchovy paste from a tube, and whatever Dijon-style mustard (a teaspoonful or so) there is around. Tiny gherkins are cornichons, and the only really hard-to-find ingredient (one per bowl, or just a little larger sour pickle) the vinegar can be any good red-wine blend, or balsamic. And try to get Hungarian hot or sharp paprika (just a dash), instead of American flavorless. Finally, depending on my mood, I add a pinch of tarragon or freshly grated ginger root, sea salt is a must, and if you can get it, just a touch of cardamom pepper, freshly ground. Garlic is optional, but good. I've made this (up to the paprika) in a mini-chopper, with good results.

The resulting salad has the perfume and flavor of the sea, without being at all "fishy". Yes, it's complicated, but just you try one. You'll be pestering the local grocery to carry cornichons in no time.

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