A Caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with lemon or lime juice, olive oil, egg, Worcestershire sauce, anchovies, garlic, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, and black pepper. In its original form, this salad was prepared and served tableside. In spite of Mediterranean ingredients, the salad has nothing to do with any Roman emperors.
The salad’s creation is generally attributed to restaurateur Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant who operated restaurants in Mexico and the US. His daughter Rosa said that her father invented the salad at his restaurant Caesar’s (at the Hotel Caesar) when a Fourth of July rush in 1924 depleted the kitchen’s supplies. Cardini made do with what he had, adding the drama of table-side tossing by the chef. The original recipe included whole lettuce leaves, which were meant to be lifted by the stem and eaten with the fingers.
In 1938 Cardini moved to Los Angeles and opened a gourmet food store. His patrons followed, arriving with empty wine bottles for him to fill with the dressing. In 1948, the demand for the dressing made him and Rosa decide to bottle it and to establish Caesar Cardini Foods. Bottled Caesar dressings are now made and marketed by many companies.
Variations of this salad exist; yogurt is sometimes substituted for the eggs to maintain a creamy texture and others call for using mayonnaise. Although the original recipe does not contain anchovies, modern recipes typically include anchovies as a key ingredient.
Some of Caesar’s friends and family dispute his claim. Livio Santini, for example, claimed he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, in the kitchen of Caesar’s restaurant in 1925, when he was 18 years old, and that Caesar took the recipe from him.
Julia Child wrote in one of her books that she had watched the salad being made in the 1920s. “Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don’t.”
In the book In Search of Caesar, The Ultimate Caesar Salad Book (1995) by Terry D. Greenfield, he states: “The legend attributes the salad’s debut across the ocean to Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson (mistress and ultimately wife of Prince Edward VIII of Wales , former King of England). Mrs. Simpson often visited and partied in the San Diego and Tijuana areas in the 1920s. During this time, Mrs. Simpson visited Hotel Caesar’s Place and became fond of Caesar’s salad.
However, in a 1952 interview, Caesar Cardini said that the salad did not become well-known until 1937 when a Hollywood screenwriter provided the recipe to various restaurants. Three years before Cardini’s death in 1956, the master chefs of the International Society of Epicures in Paris proclaimed Caesar’s salad as “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.”
I like Caesar salad a lot. But hold the salty anchovies!