Where have all the Caesars gone?

The classic Caesar salad has descended into such mutant variations as adding "creamy" to the dressing description, "with chicken/shrimp", and - the worst offender of all - the non-adjective"garlicky".

The presumed original recipe is fairly simple - garlic, olive oil, salt, anchovies, dry mustard, an egg, lemon juice, Romaine lettuce, grated Parmigiano Regiano, and black pepper. Then, of course, you get into variations - with or without Worcesteshire, Dijon mustard vs. dry, etc.

But as far as I'm concerned, there are a few ingredients that can be substituted. In particular and most frequently violated, is the "vinegar for lemon" trick. Presumably restaurants are doing this for a practical and understandable reason - vinegar is far cheaper than lemon juice, especially fresh lemon juice.

Then they add a similarly distorting ingredient - "shrimp or chicken". As there isn't much in the way of protein in a classic Caesar salad, this is a pretty obvious (and profitable) way of adding it. Both chicken and shrimp happen to go nicely in a Caesar since they both go well with lemon and garlic making them a natural, if uninvited, addition; available for an extra charge.

Some restaurants throw a bone to the obligatory Caesar fans with "romaine leaves tossed with a lemon/anchovy dressing and garlic croutons". Smells like a Caesar to me. I can't figure out why some choose to not simply put "Caesar Salad" on the menu, especially those restaurants which make a version that most closely resembles the original. It's those that venture into creamy, garlicky, often untossed, with chicken and/or shrimp and some other random ingredient sprinkled on top that dare use the name Caesar. In short, the more the distortion, the more likely they are to bastardize the name.

The Caesar Salad is a classic being threatened by mediocrity and people not caring, or not knowing, what a classic can taste like. Once you've had the classic, no other adjective-laden versions will never taste the same again.


Derek said…
As a chef who intends to NOT conform to the Ceasar Mania. Please be assured, properly made, it is a fantastic salad. However, because its proliferation in chain restaurants is unmatched, and were talking about bottled dressing here, people have come to expect it to come with options. So lets review...a proper ceasar is romain, croutons, freshly made dressing (WITH ANCHOVY)shaved parmesan reggiano, and sometimes anchovies. That is a damn nice salad. But everyone expects to be able to add: chicken, blackened chicken, shrimp, blackened shrimp, cocktail shrimp, and many other variations. This is the reason that good chefs (in my opinion) stay away from it. If its made right...with the proper ingredients...its expensive to make...if you buy bottled crap to make it with and offer variations....well

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