A phenomenal classic Caesar salad is sort of like a unicorn — they are both rare and elusive, some doubt that either exists — but a really good Caesar salad is much easier to find than a unicorn. The tools and ingredients needed to make an exceptional Caesar salad can be found in almost every kitchen, and the techniques are essentials every cook should know.
Make the best from-scratch croutons on the stovetop, make a classic Caesar dressing, and put them both together on a bowl of romaine that has been properly prepared and enjoy a unicorn-like Caesar salad of your dreams.
Make the Best Croutons
Stovetop croutons are the best croutons for Caesar salad making. Nothing against store-bought croutons, it's just that stovetop croutons made from leftover bread are infinitely more tasty and easily customizable. Plus, they only take about 10 minutes to toast up and don't require heating up the oven. Croutons for Caesar salad can be made up to a few days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.
Get a Recipe: How To Make Stovetop Croutons
Make the Best Dressing
Caesar salad is all about that classic creamy dressing. The dressing should have plenty of garlic and Parmesan cheese, a bit of briny anchovies, and lots of black pepper. This classic uses raw egg yolks to build a creamy emulsion without any cream. Use pasteurized egg yolks if you are feeding this salad to the very young or elderly, or feel uncomfortable with raw egg yolks.
Get a Recipe: How to Make Classic Caesar Dressing
Cut the Romaine!
This is may cause some controversy, but the best Caesar salad has cut (not torn) romaine lettuce. Cutting the lettuce keeps it colder than man-handling it does, plus it guarantees uniform pieces of lettuce that are easy to eat. Cut the romaine into bite-sized pieces and wash under cool running water before drying throughly (a salad spinner is best, but laying on paper towels and patting dry works too). Wet lettuce prevents the dressing from coating the lettuce well.
Assembly Is Key
Assembly is a small step in success to the ultimate Caesar salad. Toss the romaine with the dressing first, and then add the croutons and toss again. Add some shaved Parmesan for both garnish and seasoning — Parmesan is salty, so taste and adjust seasoning after adding the cheese. Serve the salad as soon as possible after assembly. After all, crisp (not wilted) romaine is one of the hallmarks of an exceptional Caesar salad.
How To Make the Ultimate Classic Caesar Salad
What You Need
For the croutons:
3 cups day-old bread cubes (about 1 inch)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the dressing:
1 (2-ounce) can oil-packed anchovy fillets, drained
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
3 medium hearts Romaine lettuce (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved with a vegetable peeler
Serrated or bread knife
Large skillet or frying pan
Medium mixing bowl
Measuring cups and spoons
- Make the croutons: Heat the oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bread cubes to the pan, sprinkle with the salt, toss to coat with the oil, and arrange in a single layer. Toast the bread, tossing every minute or so, until the bread cubes are golden-brown on all sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat. Cool completely.
- Make an anchovy-garlic paste: Mince the anchovies and garlic together until the mixture is mostly smooth and the garlic is minced, about 3 minutes; set aside.
- Make the dressing base: Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl until smooth. Whisk in the mustard until just combined. Whisk in the anchovy-garlic mixture. While whisking, pour in the lemon juice, then whisk until smooth.
- Whisk in the oils: While whisking, stream in the olive oil to create a thick emulsion. Once all of the olive oil is added, whisk for another minute to thicken. Continue whisking and slowly stream in the vegetable oil. Again, once all of the vegetable oil is added, whisk for another minute to thicken. Whisk in the Parmesan cheese. Taste and season with black pepper as needed.
- Prepare the romaine: Cut the romaine into bite-sized pieces and rinse under cool running water. Salad spin to dry or spread the romaine out onto a clean kitchen towel and pat dry.
- Toss and serve: Place the romaine in a large bowl, add half of the dressing, and toss to combine. Add the croutons and toss again. Add some shaved Parmesan for both garnish and seasoning — Parmesan is salty, so taste and adjust the seasoning with pepper or more dressing as needed after adding the cheese. Serve immediately.
- Make ahead: The croutons can be made a few days in advance and stored at room temperature.
- Storage: Store leftover croutons in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Leftover dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for 1 day.