Saturday, January 21, 2017

Simple home-made Caesar salad dressing and mayonnaise

When I did a Caesar salad post back in 2012, it was very well received.  My cos lettuce crop this year has been a complete failure, but when my lovely neighbour Helen gave me a bag of fresh cos leaves from her garden this week, my first thought was Caesar salad.
         I knew we'd run out of Paul Newman Caesar dressing, so I trotted off with it on my shopping list - and then completely overlooked buying it. I have an excuse - I was distracted by Jonathan's plea for a supermarket steak and kidney pie, which he had a sudden yen for. Only they don't actually make those family pies any more, apparently. Countdown had pale mince ones, and New World had some not-very-appetising steak and cheese ones. But they also had a posh (and much more expensive) version with Angus steak and red onions. In the modern fashion, the label featured a prominent list of what it did NOT contain: no palm oil (good on them), no MSG (surely you wouldn't expect that in a pie anyway?), no preservatives, artificial colouring or flavouring. So we'll give it a go tomorrow night. [PS - it was okay, but not worth buying again.]
         I had no intention of going back out for the dressing, so I decided I'd look up a recipe online, because (thanks to Mr Newman) I've never actually made it before. It was the usual story with a classic creation: ten different recipes, all claiming to be authentic and all featuring a roughly similar list of ingredients, only in differing quantities and combined by different methods.
         They all include grated Parmesan, though some prefer to leave it out of the actual dressing and just toss it with the undressed lettuce first, and most add more Parmesan on top at the end.  (It tastes very much better to get a piece and grate it yourself, rather than using the kind sold already grated, which is really not worth eating. A piece of Parmesan is expensive, but you don't need a lot, and it lasts for a long time in the fridge.)
          After extensive research, I settled for a slightly adapted version of the recipe offered by Serious Eats. To start with, it gives by far the best background, based on Julia Child's childhood memories of Caesar salad and very good sources from the restaurant where it's said to have originated (see my previous post). It has all the basic ingredients, but doesn't contain any harsh vinegar (which, judging by Paul's, I think would be too strong). It uses a stick blender, which I know will work because my friend Ali has given me a brilliant mayonnaise recipe using one (see below). And it brings up the problem I've had with olive oil tasting bitter when you use a blender, and explains how to avoid it. Genius. I'll probably still keep Paul's handy when pressed for time, but now I can do it myself - very satisfying.

Caesar salad dressing
(Serious Eats)
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 to 6 anchovies
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 large clove garlic, crushed
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup virgin olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine egg yolk, lemon juice, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, crushed garlic, and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese in the bottom of a cup or beaker that just fits the head of a stick blender. With blender running, slowly drizzle in canola oil* until a smooth emulsion forms. (Or do it all at once - it still seems to thicken nicely.) Transfer mixture to a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste generously with salt and pepper.
* "Just as with a regular mayonnaise, you don't want to use extra-virgin olive oil with an electric blender. It causes the olive oil to break down and turn bitter. Instead, use a neutral oil like canola to begin your emulsion. Then, when it's stable, whisk in the extra-virgin by hand."

Mayonnaise in a moment
Adapted from Ali's version, with a different combination of oils. She says, "This  is Alison Holst's recipe, which we've been using for years (the garlic is our addition).” She points out that you can add your own variations, such as different vinegars, using more or less garlic, or none, or stirring in finely chopped tarragon at the very end. Excellent for potato salad.

1 egg

2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil - mild flavour works best
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp salt
several grinds of black pepper
Optional: 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped

Place all ingredients except the olive oil in the container of your stick blender and process for 8-10 seconds, moving the blender gently up and down to make sure all the oil is incorporated. Put mayonnaise in a bowl and slowly add the olive oil, whisking it in by hand. OR for a very mild mayonnaise, you can use all canola oil (or another vegetable oil) and omit this last addition.

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