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How to Make a Caesar Salad at Home

The Caesar may be the most iconic salad of them all. We show you how easy it is to make a classic Caesar Salad at home that rivals the best restaurant versions.

Half Picture of Caesar Salad Bowl

After a few tests, we had completed our final Caesar salad and it was a thing of beauty – a simple collection of parmesan and coddled egg-laced lettuce mixed with a mashed anchovy-enhanced lemon vinaigrette. We finished the salad by tossing it with large homemade olive oil sourdough croutons in a garlic scented wooden bowl.

We were so impressed with our creation that we decided to serve the salad to European travel blogger friends who dropped by our apartment that evening for a quick aperitivo to start the night in Lisbon.

Caesar Salad on a Salad Plate
It’s difficult to resist a plate topped with\ homemade Caesar Salad… or so we thought.

We thought they’d jump on the free food, as people in our industry often do, but instead, they approached the Caesar salad with a certain amount of trepidation. Being internationals and not having had the benefit of eating the American restaurant stalwart in its homeland, they’d never enjoyed the pure pleasure that this legendary salad often evokes.

→ Discover 29 more iconic American dishes.

In fact, to one of them, the phrase Caesar salad evoked images of limp lettuce topped with yogurt sauce squeezed out of a bottle….

Caesar Salad – What happened?

Over the years, many American gastronomic classics have been ruined by the country’s ongoing quests for low prices and convenience. Remarkably, the bastardizing of Caesar Cardini’s salad occurred relatively late in the game, around the 1980s and into the 90s. The explosion of corporate chain restaurants introduced the addition of grilled chicken and processed Caesar Salad dressing. Apparently, just the idea of the word salad meant ‘healthy’ regardless of actual nutrition and calories.

Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Gloopy Dressing
This loaded Chicken Caesar Salad represents the opposite of what we love about a classic Caesar Salad.

Before long, a host of premade, ready-to-serve, bottled Caesar dressings lined the supermarket shelves and filled American refrigerators. Finally, the Caesar even made appearances at fast food joints in wraps and on top of baked potatoes.

The thing is, the classic Caesar is a great salad. Even today, if you go to a New York steakhouse or old-school, high-end Italian restaurant, you can reasonably expect your Caesar Salad to be made tableside by a server who will transform a few ingredients like romaine lettuce, lemon juice, eggs and oil into a masterpiece right before your eyes.

→ Discover more of the world’s best salads.

What Is Caesar Salad?

Caesar Salad from Above
A classic Caesar Salad is a beautiful thing. It’s also a tasty thing.

Done right, a Caesar Salad is light, savory and flavorful.

Its combination of greens, acid-based emulsion and grated cheese should never feel heavy. This is a balanced salad where all the flavorful elements are present – the slight hint of lemon, the crunchiness of the freshest lettuce, the hint of an uncurrent of garlic, the richness of egg and the lasting umami of parmesan and (typically) anchovy.

When we were young, part of the fun of ordering this timeless dish at a restaurant was to watch a tuxedoed server wheel a cart topped by a large wooden salad bowl and range of Caesar mis-en-place. That server would compose the salad in a ritualistic manner by mixing the dressing, mashing the anchovies and tossing the greens. The show would always finish with a crank of pepper from a large wooden pepper mill.

Daryl Putting Black Pepper on Caesar Salad
We channel our childhoods by cracking pepper with a large pepper mill.

Our homemade Caesar Salad contains all of these elements. And, while Caesar’s original version did NOT contain anchovies, the tiny cured fish has earned its place in this classic salad over the years. Being anchovy lovers, we’re uncompromising in this regard.

Oh, in case you were wondering, our travel blogger friends loved our Caesar Salad. There were no lettuce leaves or croutons left five minutes after they took their first bites.

History of the Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad Closeup
We channeled history when we mixed this classic Caesar Salad in our home kitchen.

Unlike legendary foods like pizza and hamburgers, Caesar salad has an almost definitive origin story involving Tijuana and a restaurant owner (Caesar Cardini) originally from Northern Italy. During a shortage of food in his kitchen, Cardini or his brother Alex or his chef Livio Santini invented the salad out of desperation, using ingredients on hand to create salad magic.

Cardini opened his self-named, south-of-the-border restaurant during Prohibition in the 1920s to cater to liquor-thirsty patrons looking for food after a day at the nearby racetrack. Legend has it that Cardini served his famous salad to a range of notable celebrities including Clark Gable and Jean Harlow.

Fun Fact
Julia Child ate Cardini’s famous salad well before she mastered the art of French cooking.

Adding Anchovy to Caesar Salad Dressing
Ironically, Cardini’s original recipe did NOT include anchovies. We add them to our recipe anyway.

As with the recipes for many iconic dishes, arguments abound about the original nature of the salad. Cardini’s daughter Rosa claims that Worcestershire sauce provided the anchovy flavor. She said that her father never added the mashed anchovies which have become ubiquitous in the restaurant version. Meanwhile, according to Caesar’s brother Alex, the salad is a finger food that should only contain ribs of lettuce smothered with dressing.

Whatever the true history may actually be, we’re confident that our version of the leafy green melange satisfies our Caesar urges and also satisfies the crowd at any dinner party. In other words, we love the mashed anchovy version easily eaten with a fork and you will too.

Caesar Salad Ingredients

Caesar Salad Mise-en-Place
There are no surprising ingredients in our Caesar Salad recipe. Our mise en place pictured here included homemade croutons, lettuce, garlic, lemon, anchovy fillets, an egg, Dijon mustard, Parmesan cheese, black pepper, olive oil and salt.

These are all of the required ingredients in our recipe:

  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Egg
  • Anchovy Fillets
  • Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
  • Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Croutons
  • Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano)
  • Fresh Ground Pepper
  • Salt

Romaine Lettuce

Romaine Lettuce
Lettuce is the heart of any Caesar Salad.

While we appreciate the tradition of exclusively using the ribs of Romaine lettuce, we prefer eating Caesar Salad with a fork.

After you cut or tear your Romaine in bite sized pieces, clean the greens by soaking them in a large bowl of water and then dry them by leaving them in a colander for about 30 minutes or spinning them in a salad spinner. You’ll want to remove as much water from the greens as possible to keep the salad from becoming too watery.

Egg

Dropping an Egg in Boiling Water
This egg is ready for its ice bath.

While some recipes call for homemade mayonnaise, we prefer coddling an egg by placing it in boiling water for one minute. We let it cool in an ice bath after we remove it from the boiling water.

Ideally, your egg should be room temperature. If you start with a cold egg, you can soak it in warm water for about 5 to 10 minutes. See this article from Bon Appetite for more details.

Anchovy

Anchovies in Prep Bowl
According to his daughter, Cardini preferred Worcestershire sauce over whole anchovies. We use whole anchovies in our recipe.

Since we love anchovies, we add three high-quality Spanish anchovies to our dressing. These anchovies bring big-time umami flavor to the salad.

Pro Tip
Use a fork to mash your anchovies into anchovy paste on a flat surface.

Lemon Juice

Squeezing Lemon Juice
We use fresh lemon in our dressing. You’ll want to do the same.

Essentially, our Caesar dressing is a lemon vinaigrette that calls for 1/4 cup of olive oil and 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice. We also add garlic and Dijon mustard – see below.

Pro Tip
One lemon should give you enough juice.

Garlic

Garlic Clove Cut in Half
We just use one garlic clove in our Caesar Salad recipe.

Some Caesar dressings contain an overpowering amount of roasted garlic. Our dressing does not.

We achieve a hint of garlic flavor by rubbing the garlic against the wooden salad bowl. Our goal is for the garlic flavor to be just present in the salad, not to overpower it.

Dijon Mustard

Dijon Mustard on Teaspoon

Although Cardini didn’t add mustard to his dressing, we add the condiment to ours. In our experience, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard adds remarkable zip to the finished salad.

Croutons

Croutons on a Cooling Rack
We were tempted to eat these croutons as soon as they came out of the oven.

We typically add homemade sourdough croutons to our Caesar Salads. We make them with sourdough bread that we buy at local bakeries. Sourdough is becoming more and more common in bread these days. If you can’t find or bake quality sourdough bread, you can use any rustic loaf.

To make the croutons, slice or tear the bread into one inch cubes until you have about 3 cups of croutons. After you toss the cubes in a tablespoon of olive oil, bake them for about 10 to 15 minutes in a 350°F / 175°C oven.

Pro Tip
Many recipes call for up to three tablespoons of oil. However, using just one tablespoon is a fine lower calorie option.

Parmesan Cheese

Grating Grana Padano
In order to make sure you have even distribution of cheese, you’ll want to mix the grated cheese with the greens in a salad bowl just before you dress your salad.

We use either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese in our simple Caesar Salad recipe. Since Cardini was from Northern Italy, we imagine that he preferred cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano over Southern Italian favorites like Pecorino-Romano.

You could use Pecorino-Romano and we assume that many American Italian restaurants use it too. However be careful not to oversalt your dressing if you go that route.

Fresh Ground Pepper

Whole Black Peppercorns

Grinding a big peppermill over your Caesar Salad is the best part of the Caesar Salad show. We recommend grinding pepper to taste in your vinaigrette but also encourage you to grind major amounts of pepper on the salad in front of your guests.

Click here to buy a show-stopping pepper grinder.

How to Make Caesar Salad at Home

Tossing a Caesar Salad
Daryl is happy since it’s almost Caesar Salad show time.

For all its mystique and legend, you can easily make a restaurant style Caesar Salad at home.

Aside from the chopping the lettuce and cutting a garlic clove in half, you’ll barely need to use a knife. After you build flavors and richness in the dressing without a lot of ingredients, you’ll feel infinite joy when you toss the ingredients together to create Caesar Salad magic.

The first step is to prepare your lettuce and assemble the croutons. Then you’ll coddle the egg. You’ll then be ready to prepare the vinaigrette

Drizzling Oil into Lemon Juice for Vinaigrette
Your vinaigrette will quickly develop as you slowly add the olive oil.

Make the vinaigrette by slowly whisking the olive oil into the lemon juice until the vinaigrette is emulsified. Season your dressing with salt and pepper to taste. Then whisk Dijon mustard into the lemon vinaigrette for extra flavor.

Mashing Anchovies
Use a fork to mash the anchovies.

Mash the anchovies on a flat plate or bowl. Then mix the mashed anchovies into the vinaigrette until they’re well incorporated.

Next, halve the garlic clove and rub it all along the surface of a large wooden salad bowl.

Rubbing a Wooden Salad Bowl with a Garlic Clove
This little bit of garlic goes a long way in terms of flavor.

Place your lettuce into a wooden salad bowl and pour the parmesan cheese on top. You’ll want to thoroughly mix the cheese into the greens.

Adding Coddled Egg to Caesar Salad
We use a spoon to get all of the coddled egg out of the shell.

Once your cheese and lettuce are mixed, start tossing in the vinaigrette until it’s fully incorporated. Break the coddled egg over the greens and toss in the salad, making sure to spoon out any egg whites or yolks left in the shell.

Caesar Salad Tossing
It’s a good thing we didn’t eat our croutons when they came out of the oven.

Pour in your croutons and toss them until they’re spread throughout the salad.

Adding Pepper to Caesar Salad
Finally – it’s show time.

Add fresh ground pepper in front of your guests and serve.

Caesar Salad Recipe

Caesar Salad Overhead Shot

Classic Caesar Salad

Yield: 4 Servings
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes

This classic Caesar Salad is a restaurant style dish that you can enjoy at home.

Ingredients

Croutons

  • 3 cups sourdough bread, cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • Pepper to taste

Dressing

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 lemon)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 anchovy filets
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste, freshly ground

Salad

  • 1 bunch romaine lettuce, chopped or torn into bite sized pieces and washed and dried in a salad spinner or colander
  • 1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced in half

Instructions

For the Croutons

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F / 175° C.
  2. Toss the sourdough bread cubes with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Place the cubes on a cooling rack on top of a sheet tray and then place in the oven for 10 - 15 minutes until the croutons are golden brown on the edges.
  4. Remove and let cool.

For the Dressing

  1. Mash the anchovies on a plate or flat bowl.
  2. Pour the lemon juice into a mixing bowl.
  3. Slowly drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream while, at the same time, whisking to form an emulsion.
  4. Whisk in the mustard.
  5. Whisk in the anchovies with a fork.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste

For the Coddled Egg

  1. Bring a small pot of water to a boil.
  2. Gently lower the egg in the water with a slotted spoon for one minute.
  3. Remove egg with the slotted spoon and place in an ice bath until cool.

Assembly

  1. Rub a wooden salad bowl thoroughly with half of the garlic clove.
  2. Place lettuce in the bowl.
  3. Toss the grated cheese with the lettuce until thoroughly combined.
  4. Evenly toss in the dressing
  5. Break the coddled egg over the salad and toss. Use a spoon to scoop out any egg white that's in the shell.
  6. Toss in the croutons until thoroughly mixed
  7. Add fresh ground pepper with the largest available pepper grinder.
  8. Serve to hungry friends.

    Notes

    • You can cook the coddled egg one day ahead and store it in the refrigerator.
    • You can bake the croutons one day ahead and store them in a breathable container.
    • You can increase the amount of olive oil to 3 tablespoons for the croutons if you prefer.
    Nutrition Information:
    Yield: 4 Serving Size: 4
    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 418Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 22gCholesterol: 82mgSodium: 817mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 15g

    Nutrition Disclosure: We used an online calculator to calculate this information. Though 2foodtrippers.com has attempted to secure accurate data, these nutritional figures are estimates.

    Hungry for More Salad?

    Check out our Cobb Salad and Salade Nicoise recipes.

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    About the Authors

    Daryl & Mindi Hirsch

    Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website and YouTube. The married Food and Travel content creators live in Lisbon, Portugal.

    Disclosure

    We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

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    Jan

    Thursday 29th of April 2021

    Sounds great except no explicit directions on when / how to add the coddled egg. 🤔

    Daryl and Mindi Hirsch

    Thursday 29th of April 2021

    Thanks. We just inserted that into the recipe. You'll want to add the coddled egg after you add the dressing. Please let us know if you have any questions.

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