Published January 1, 2011. From Cook's Illustrated.
A combination of extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil gave our Caesar Salad dressing a neutral base. We used a rasp-style grater to turn garlic into pulp, then steeped it in lemon juice. To get all of our recipe’s ingredients to emulsify, we beat the yolks, anchovies, and Worcestershire sauce into the lemon juice and garlic, then slowly whisked in the oil and half of the cheese. For our Caesar salad’s croutons, we used ciabatta. Sprinkling the bread cubes with a little water and salt preserved their moistness and ensured they were perfectly tender at the center and browned around the edges after we toasted them.
If you can't find ciabatta, a similar crusty, rustic loaf of bread can be substituted. A quarter cup of Egg Beaters may be substituted for the egg yolks. Since anchovy fillets vary in size, more than 6 fillets may be necessary to yield 1 tablespoon of minced anchovies. The easiest way to turn garlic cloves into a paste is to grate them on a rasp-style grater.
1. FOR THE CROUTONS: Combine 1 tablespoon oil and garlic paste in small bowl; set aside. Place bread cubes in large bowl. Sprinkle with water and salt. Toss, squeezing gently so bread absorbs water. Place remaining 4 tablespoons oil and soaked bread cubes in 12-inch nonstick skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until browned and crisp, 7 to 10 minutes.
2. Remove skillet from heat, push croutons to sides of skillet to clear center, add garlic/oil mixture to clearing and cook with residual heat of pan, 10 seconds. Sprinkle with Parmesan; toss until garlic and Parmesan are evenly distributed. Transfer croutons to bowl; set aside.
3. FOR THE SALAD: Whisk garlic paste and 2 tablespoons lemon juice together in large bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.
4. Whisk Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, and egg yolks into garlic/lemon juice mixture. While whisking constantly, drizzle canola oil and extra virgin olive oil into bowl in slow, steady stream until fully emulsified. Add 1/2 cup Parmesan and pepper to taste; whisk until incorporated.
5. Add romaine to dressing and toss to coat. Add croutons and mix gently until evenly distributed. Taste and season with up to additional 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Serve immediately, passing remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan separately.
Make Your Own Anchovy Paste
The deep flavor of good-quality oil-packed fillets is a must in this recipe. The fishier, flatter taste of commercial anchovy paste won't do.
Even small bits of anchovy can be distracting in Caesar salad. Finely slice the fillets and mash with a fork to create a paste that contributes savory - not fishy - flavor.
Tempering Garlic's Bite
In our Caesar dressing, every little detail counts—especially the strong flavor of raw garlic. In the past, we’ve found that cloves minced well in advance end up tasting harsh in the final dish. Would letting the grated garlic in our recipe sit for just 10 minutes while we prepared the rest of the salad ingredients have the same effect? And could steeping it in lemon juice for the same amount of time—a practice recommended by an old French wives’ tale—actually mellow it out?
We made three batches of Caesar dressing: In the first, we grated the garlic and immediately combined it with the other dressing ingredients. In the second, we soaked the grated garlic in lemon juice for 10 minutes before proceeding. In the third, we let the grated garlic rest for 10 minutes on its own before combining it with the other components.
Tasters found the garlic grated in advance without steeping tasted the harshest of the three. The other two preparations—grated garlic soaked in lemon juice and grated garlic immediately mixed into the dressing—tasted markedly milder, with the lemon juice-soaked sample making for a particularly well-balanced dressing.
Raw garlic’s harsh flavor comes from a compound called allicin, which forms as soon as the clove’s cells are ruptured and continues to build as it sits. The citric acid in lemon juice hastens the conversion of harsh-tasting allicin to more mellow compounds called thiosulfonates, disulfides, and trisulfides—the same milder-tasting compounds that form when garlic is heated. And since soaking the garlic is easy to do while preparing the other ingredients, it’s a step we think is worthwhile.
GARLIC ON ACID
Steeping cut garlic in lemon juice mellows its flavor.
A Better Kind of Crouton
Most modern-day croutons used in Caesar salad are crunchy through and through. We designed ours to be crispy on the outside but chewy in the middle, a far better complement to the crisp-tender romaine leaves.
1. MOISTEN Sprinkling bread cubes with water and then squeezing them moistens their interior.
2. CRISP UP Frying the dampened cubes in oil crisps their exteriors while the moist interior retains some chew.