Gatherings in my family have always evolved around food, which makes sense because everyone is pretty darn good at cooking. So good that every family meal is a "going back for seconds and third" kind of event. Growing up I got to indulge in things like my dad's grilled steak, my mom's signature cornbread dressing or parsley potatoes, my uncle's famous ribs, and my aunt's famous Caesar salad.
My aunt's Caesar salad isn't like a lot of the Caesars you've tried. When I order a Caesar salad at a restaurant, it's usually made with iceberg lettuce, loaded with croutons, and doused in a mayo-based dressing. Hers is entirely different. It's made with the perfect blend of ingredients like garlic-infused olive oil, lemon, Worcestershire, and blue cheese, and it isn't another boring salad you force down as a nutritious side item. Instead, this Caesar salad is its own experience, and it's changed the way I look at the potential of what a salad can be.
It's easy to only think of salad as a bunch of lettuce and vegetables with your favorite bottled dressing on top, but my aunt puts so much care into every step of the process. The whole affair is about tasting as you go and trusting your taste buds to know the way. Is it the easiest way you can make a Caesar salad? Not at all. But the way my aunt takes time and uses patience as a main tool for throwing this dish together is reminiscent of how my family enjoys meals together in general: with time, intention, and no rush to move on to the next thing.
When I asked my aunt more about this recipe, she said she'd been making it for 50 years. "I read a couple of recipes back then, and then just I winged it."
Earlier this week I took on the endeavor of making this recipe myself. I've tried it once or twice before, but I needed a refresher. Having only a couple more weeks until the holidays felt like a perfect time to make this dish and feel closer to my family from a distance.
What you'll need
My aunt says "There are not really any set quantities in this recipe. It is all 'to taste.'" With that in mind, here are the ingredients you'll need to gather before beginning your Caesar salad-making journey:
- Several cloves of garlic
- 1 cup of olive oil
- Romaine lettuce
- Green leaf lettuce
- 1 egg
- 1 lemon
- Worcestershire sauce
- Salt and pepper
- Blue cheese
How my aunt makes her famous Caesar salad
My aunt gave me the following instructions for her Caesar salad. I was a bit nervous to make it since so much of this recipe is about just tasting as you go, but I did my best to channel my family's natural culinary senses.
The first thing you're going to do is mince several cloves of garlic and infuse them into one cup of olive oil. You'll want to do this ahead of time so that you can let it sit for at least a couple of hours before preparing the salad. The longer it sits, the more flavorful it will be.
Then you can take a nice full head of romaine lettuce and tear it into bite-size pieces, discarding the ribs. My aunt likes to mix in a small bunch of green leaf lettuce (a favorite from both my mom and my aunt), so I took some of that and ripped it up as well. Then I combined the two.
Once the lettuce is combined, beat the raw egg in a separate bowl until smooth, and then carefully drizzle it over the lettuce, just enough to lightly coat the leaves. Depending on how much lettuce you have and how many people you're serving, you may not need the whole egg, it's just enough to create a light coating. You can use your hands like my aunt does, but she says to of course make sure they're washed first!
This step with the raw egg may not be what you're used to with a Caesar salad, as oftentimes the raw egg is mixed into the dressing ahead of time, but this method adds richness to the salad. Trust me, it works. And as long as you use pasteurized eggs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says a Caesar salad dressing with raw eggs is safe to eat. It's suggested to consume within two hours of making.
Next, drizzle the olive oil over the leaves, sparingly, and toss gently again. My aunt notes that if the leaves do not look coated enough, add more oil, little by little.
When the leaves are coated in enough olive oil, squeeze half of your lemon over them and toss again. Then sprinkle a little bit of Worcestershire sauce.
Now it's time to taste-test a few of the leaves to ensure a good balance of oil and lemon. My aunt first sprinkles a little bit of salt to enhance the flavors. This is where the fun part comes in of you deciding what flavors you want to add more of. Maybe it needs more oil, more lemon, more Worcestershire, or just a bit more salt. Experiment and see what satisfies your taste buds.
Once you're satisfied, top it off with a bit of cracked pepper to taste, and then however much bleu cheese and shredded parmesan you like.
"Sometimes I put the cheeses in separate small bowls and pass them at the table, so each guest can add as much or as little as they prefer," says my aunt. "Although, to me, it's best when the cheeses can be tossed into the salad."
Last but not least, it's time to serve and enjoy your salad. If you're anything like my family, then you may enjoy eating like us: with some buttery parsley potatoes, a hunk of juicy red steak, and of course a glass of red wine.