Caesar’s Anchovies

We sat on wooden school chairs at a cluttered desk. We rolled back the lid from a tin of anchovies and twisted open a jar of marinated artichokes. We broke crusty rolls and ate a legendary Italian lunch. In that college room years ago, I tasted anchovies for the first time and marveled at what lay beyond the Colorado River.

Anchovies are magic food. They’re a natural flavor catalyst. Despite their current bad rap, these salted miniature fish enhance seasoning and endow cooking with umami—the fifth taste beyond sweet, sour, salt and bitter. The Japanese call umami “deliciousness”; it’s often replicated with the chemical monosodium glutamate. Anchovies were essential to the ancient Romans in their garum sauce, and today anchovies flavor hundreds of different Asian fish sauces, plus some common condiments.

The Caesar Salad, historically created by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana, Mexico, may not have originally included anchovies. It did, however, call for Worcestershire sauce, which contains the subtle glutamate flavor of anchovies. For me the best Caesar Salad has real anchovies, no anchovy paste, no Worcestershire—only the amazing combination of lemon, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan and of course anchovies. Another part of the dressing, the egg, should be fresh, organic or free-range if possible. When the egg is briefly coddled or boiled just under a minute, it firms up slightly. The egg, also “cooked” by the lemon, gives the dressing a creamy texture with far fewer calories than more oil. A Caesar Salad makes a meal in itself. With the addition of grilled steak, chicken or eggplant, it’s a summer feast.

Caesar Salad Dressing

l clove garlic

1/4 teaspoon salt

2–4 anchovy fillets

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 rounded teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce (optional)

l egg (coddled 45–60 sec)

6 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 cup shaved or grated fresh Parmesan cheese

To coddle the egg: bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Lower the egg into the water and let it cook 45-60 seconds. Remove egg to a bowl of cold water and proceed with the recipe.

Crush the garlic with the salt in a small mortar or on a wooden board using the tip of a chopping knife. Add crushed garlic, sliced anchovy fillets, lemon juice, mustard, Tabasco to a blender jar and whiz to combine.   Crack egg at the equator, scoop all the bits into the blender jar; blend again. Add olive oil and blend just to combine. Pour dressing into a glass jar, add 1 tablespoon water to blender jar, swish thoroughly to rinse contents and add to dressing. Stir to combine; chill until ready to use.

The dressing may also be mixed in a bowl. Mash the garlic with the side of a knife and the anchovies with a fork. Place in a bowl with the coddled egg, mustard and whisk in the lemon juice until well combined. Stir in olive oil to emulsify, and season to taste with Tabasco if desired.

For a traditional Caesar salad, mix crisp Romaine lettuce with the dressing, garnish with toasted croutons, shaved or grated Parmesan cheese, and freshly ground black pepper. Makes enough dressing for a whole meal salad for 2 or a side salad for 4.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at


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