How to perfect the ordinary.
I love a caesar salad. But if I’m going to make one, I’m going to savor all of the simplicities of it. Call it casual decadence, but I’d rather take the extra 20 minutes to make homemade dressing, to crisp up some fresh croutons, to trim the lettuce just right, and to grate cheese three ways. Yes, I will grate parmesan three ways for the perfect caesar. One, I’m going to put freshly ground cheese into the fresh dressing. Two, I want the salty crunch of those oven-baked cheese crisps. And three, those crisps are never enough, because I just eat those straight away, so I also shave some cheese for the actual salad.
And if I’m going to put the 20 minutes in to complete the above salad perfection measures, I might as well make the salad the main course and add some protein: seared scallops. You see caesar with chicken all the time on menus, but I actually think the sweetness of scallops pairs better.
- 6 anchovy filets
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 egg yolks at room temperature
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp dijon
- 1/4 teaspoon tabasco sauce
- 1 cup olive oil
- 4 tbsp freshly, finely grated parmesan cheese
Caesar dressing is basically a more complex homemade mayonnaise, with hints of bitter and tart flavors. As you can see from my recent sailor style mussel recipe, I’ve been loving the homemade mayo. Blend the anchovies and garlic cloves in a food processor until as chopped as can be. Add the yolks, lemon juice, hot sauce, and dijon, and blend until smooth. Next add a tablespoon of extremely hot water. This will slightly cook the eggs, and ensure that your dressing doesn’t get watery. Add the oil ever so slowly into the processor as it is blending. If you have one of those top pieces with the tiny hole in it, use that to ensure that the oil only drips a drop at a time. At the very end, add the cheese.
- 1/2 loaf stale italian or french bread
- 4 tbsp melted butter or olive oil
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley
- Salt and pepper
I’ve really been into homemade croutons this year. The preparation is so easy, and the house smells so good in the process. Chop up the bread into small pieces. Toss with the butter or oil. Then add the chopped herbs, and heavily salt and pepper the croutons. In my previous post on croutons I suggest using chives. That would be fine here too, but I think parsley pairs better with the caesar dressing. Bake the croutons on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes (until dry and crisp) at 250F.
- 1/2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tbsp oil
- 1lb scallops
- Salt and pepper
The two main secrets to perfectly seared scallops are high heat and minimal liquid. The pan has to be hot and you can’t have wet scallops or you’re essentially boiling them in their own liquid or the butter in the pan (if you use too much). So pat the scallops dry, and get the pan hot on medium high heat, and add ½ tbsp butter and ½ tbsp oil for each batch of scallops that you sear. The scallops should not be crowded, and should have space between each. Sear for 2-3 minutes each side, and one extra minute on each side afterward.
- 2 heads of romaine
I really prefer to eliminate any less-than-perfectly-textured pieces of lettuce in my caesar. I chop off the entire bottom, and any outer leaves that are leathery. After this, I cut out the big chunks of white that are essentially just water anyway. After rinsing, I make sure the lettuce is completely dry so that the dressing sticks well. Then I place the lettuce with the croutons in a shopping bag and shake with the dressing. I only add a little of the dressing at a time as I do this - it’s hard to take back too much dressing!
- 4 tbsp parmesan, grated
- 2 tbsp parmesan, sliced thinly
Throw the shaved cheese into the bag of salad and shake to incorporate. Heat the oven to 350F. Then spread the grated cheese onto a parchment-lined baking sheet in the shape of a few circles. Melt the cheese for 5 minutes. Once cooled, you can plate a crisp with each plate of salad and add the scallops.