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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hail Caesar

Gosh, I miss restaurant tableside caesar salad service.  Not many restaurants do it anymore.  I know it's old school and fussy, but having a lovely caesar salad tossed tableside always felt luxurious and grand.  Michael and I used to go to Stanley Demos' Coach House back in the day.  Back when  reservations were required, dressing up meant "up", and being seen was as important as the food.  The Coach House  offered an old school tableside tossed caesar salad. We always ordered it, devouring the production and the scrumptious salads.  One of the advantages to tableside service was that any salad could be customized to order.  Extra anchovies?  Sure.  No anchovies? Yep.  Extra lemon, worchestershire?  Yes. Anything we wanted, was ours. With style.

As if in slow motion, a server would roll a cart by the table,  rub a wooden bowl with fresh garlic, squeeze fresh lemon juice into the bowl, drizzle worchestershire sauce and olive oil  around the edges of the bowl, ask about anchovies before adding  anchovies, and briskly whisk the ingredients until emulsified into salad dressing  Torn romaine lettuce would then be tossed into the bowl with a shower of grated parmesan cheese, cracked black peppercorns, and toasted croutons. Finally, a raw egg would be broken over the salad and vigorously tossed before plating.

What a way to begin a meal.

I miss that.

The more I thought about it, the more I wanted  caesar salad.  A caesar salad with real caesar dressing.
I don't have a large wooden bowl to recreate a traditional tableside experience.  Hell, we hardly even eat at our dining room table, so it didn't matter.  I decided  on deconstructed ceasar salad with  a few twists.

Basic Caesar Salad.

Romaine.  Dressing.  Croutons.

I love the crunch of fried croutons.  Baked are fine, but fried are better. That being said, I decided to fry croutons made with chilled cubed cheese grits.  I made the cheese grits by simmering 1 cup of Weisenberger Stone Ground Grtis with 2 cups water, 2 cups milk, and salt.  After 30 minutes, I added 1/2 cup parmigiano reggianno, 1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper.  While the grits were still molten hot, I stirred a handful of freeze-dried Brazilian green peppercorns into the mix , poured the grits into a pie pan, smoothed the top, and slid the cheesy grits into the refrigerator to chill and firm up.
Once they were very firm, I inverted the grit cake onto a cutting board, sliced it into cubes, and deep fried the cubes until golden brown.  After transferring the cheese grit croutons to paper towels to drain, I trimmed the crusts from a few slices of fresh sourdough bread, cut them into half inch cubes, deep fried them in hot peanut oil until  glisteningly brown, and added them to the grit croutons.  Dueling croutons. Different flavors. Different textures.  I couldn't help myself.  I love croutons.

I stayed true with the dressing.  Authentic caesar dressing is a thing of beauty and I didn't want to mess with it.  I pasted 2 minced garlic cloves in a bowl with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt before adding 1 tablespoon of worchestershire sauce, 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, 4 oil-packed caper-rolled anchovy filets, and 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano cheese.  Even though our eggs were fresh organic eggs from Elmwood Stock Farm, I coddled one in boiling water for 1 minute  (for safety reasons)  before adding it to the dressing pool.  I whisked the ingredients together, slowly adding 1/3 cup of a good quality extra virgin olive oil to emulsify the dressing.  Cracked pepper and minced fresh parley finished the caesar salad.dressing.

What's your function?

I lined our plates with washed and dried crisp romaine lettuce leaves, forming long lettuce boats.  After drizzling the dressing over the leaves, I topped our salads with jiggly poached eggs, salty tart capers, sliced briny black olives, additional anchovy filets,  crunchy croutons, and fresh parsley.
To gild the lily, I draped gorgeous pink thinly sliced prosciutto ribbons over the dressed romaine lettuce leaves for added soft salty texture.

The dressing was perfect,  coating  the crisp lettuce leaves with salty, earthy, and tart creaminess. The luscious fruity olive oil  balanced the zing of the mustard, tang from the worchestershire sauce, the bright acidity of the fresh lemon juice, and the harsh unctuousness of the anchovies. 

The cheese grit and sourdough croutons were the bomb, providing cheesy deep fried greasy crunch.  They were  perfect foils to the runny yellow egg yolks that oozed and dripped when pierced. Fabulous.

It wasn't traditional caesar salad, by any means.
No cart. No server. No tableside service.
It still captured the essence and the memory.

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