Stitch and Bear

A long-running Irish blog with reviews of the best restaurants in Dublin and throughout Ireland. Some wine and cocktails thrown in for good measure!

Sunday, April 3, 2016

[Opinion] An ode to the Caesar salad and the humble anchovy

I've been a long term lover of the classic Casear salad. It's undeniably the king of salads, and eating a good Caesar salad is a pleasure like no other.  The combination of crisp Romaine lettuce, a creamy umami-packed dressing and crunchy croutons was a genius move on the part of whoever assembled the first Caesar salad. Its creation is generally attributed to Caesar Cardini, a Italian immigrant with restaurants in the US and Mexico. Legend has it that he was working in Tijuana (to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition) when he created the now eponymous salad. 

I would say that calling this dish a salad is an item of technicality. Yes it is lettuce-based but the creamy emulsion dressing is what makes the salad so delectable. Add in lashings of parmesan cheese and other optional additions, and the calorie count can increase dramatically. However, I'm choosing to still view it as a salad and all the benefits that come with eating salad.

So why am I writing about the Caesar salad? I recently ordered a version at an Amsterdam hotel which I found myself consuming with great enthusiasm.  I went so far as to run my finger around the inside of the bowl to catch all the remaining dressing. And it wasn't because I was starving. It was because it was packed with chunks of anchovies. Those lovely, salty, meaty little fish which pack more punch than a heavyweight boxer. Yes the lettuce was lovely and crisp, the croutons were crunchy, there was loads of parmesan and the addition of grilled chicken, bacon and hard-boiled egg was superb, but it was really all about the anchovies. 

Anchovies are delicious eaten straight from the tin or jar, and will add bucketloads of oomph (more technically known as unami) to any dish. They've been used for centuries as a source of potent flavour, and feature in many classic sauces such as Worcestershire sauce and Pater Peperium Gentleman's Relish. But for some reason, many people dislike the anchovy, probably because they've eaten the cheaper, fishier versions. Invest in some quality anchovies and you will see the difference. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that if you don't like anchovies, we may need to discuss the nature of our relationship. 
My homemade Chicken Caesar salad
Making a Caesar salad dressing can involve a fair amount of whisking as you need to emulsify the egg yolk and olive oil. If you've got biceps of iron, then work away, otherwise use a blender to help speed up the process. A personal tip is to use the leftover oil from the anchovies in the salad dressing for extra flavour. One of my favourite recipes is comes from Bon Appetit and is really easy to make quickly.

If you want to try anchovies in other recipes, try this recipe list from Huffington Post.
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