So, the salad isn’t exactly Italian, nor does it have any connection with the ancient Roman Emperor Caesar. It is, however, one of the most delicious salads, especially lovely to eat in this hot weather, but I have given it my own little twist by adding grilled sardines and there is a story behind it. Last week was our first taste of freedom after being locked down for over two months and so I invited some friends for a light lunch on the terrace at home. It was a scorching hot day, and so I barbequed some chicken which I had marinated in garlic oil and lemon juice and some sardines and served it all with a large Caesar salad.
The first time I ever made or even heard of a Caesar salad was when I was working at The Savoy Hotel in London. The sous chef walked into the larder kitchen (which I was in charge of) to give me the daily update on orders. It was a tiny kitchen behind the main kitchen that prepared all the starters and salads. The sous chef said that Elizabeth Taylor was coming for lunch and she would probably like a Caesar salad, so be prepared he said. I said a Caesar Salad, no problem Chef! What the hell is a Caesar salad I thought?!! This was about 1980, and we didn’t have internet in those days so I grabbed a copy of Larousse Gastronomique (which every good kitchen had on a shelf somewhere) and looked it up. It explained the salad and that it contained anchovies, and so I went downstairs to the fish section to ask if they had any anchovies.
Sure, they said and they handed me the fish wrapped in paper. I prepared all the ingredients and the dressing which was made with raw egg yolk, lemon and mustard and laid it all out including some of the anchovies which I decided I was going to grill. Elizabeth Taylor ordered the Caesar salad as predicted and so I carefully dressed the salad and topped it with grilled anchovies and sent it out on the trolley with a junior waiter. When the salad was served, the restaurant manager immediately checked it and saw this lovely looking salad topped with… sardines!!
Apologizing he went to remove the salad but Ms.Taylor stopped him.
“How creative,” she said, “I much prefer sardines to anchovies.” And that’s when the famous Caesar salad was reinvented by Chef Steven Saunders! The restaurant manager was furious, the fish section thought it was hilarious, as they knew that wouldn’t know what an anchovy looked like! (I was only about 18).
A few weeks later I bumped into the restaurant manager in the kitchen lift and he grinned disapprovingly at me and said, ”How is Senior Cardini’s salad these days?” “Wonderful Sir, especially better with the addition of sardines!”
“Cheeky boy,” he said, ”you’ll never get anywhere!”
Senior Cardini’s Caesar salad… with sardines! The original recipe has a raw egg to make the dressing but as this can be dangerous these days, I have replaced it with mayonnaise.
1 romaine lettuce
1 small loaf of yesterdays (slightly stale) French bread cut into 1cm dice
1 small bottle of good extra virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled and blanched in boiling water for three minutes.
3 garlic cloves blended with 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil to create a garlic oil
6 anchovy fillets
8 small sardines scaled and washed
1 whole lemon, juiced
1 flat tablespoon of Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
150g fresh parmesan cheese curled with a potato peeler
1 tablespoon of mayonnaise
Maldon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wash the lettuce, spin dry it afterwards so that it has no water left on it and then cut it in to approx. 1 cm slices and reserve in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 190°C.
Put the croutons onto an ungreased baking sheet and brush with a little garlic oil, and season with some Maldon salt. Bake until crispy- approx. 15minutes, then reserve on kitchen paper.
Crush the blanched garlic and the anchovies together in a bowl and then add the lemon juice and the Worcester sauce, and then the mustard and mix well in. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and season well with salt and freshly milled black pepper, and then finally add the mayonnaise and reserve.
Put the lettuce leaves into your salad bowl and then the dressing from the bowl and toss well together.
Toss the croutons through the salad and top with curls of fresh parmesan cheese.
Grill the sardines whole, with a little olive oil and Maldon salt until cooked, and serve them on top of the salad.
Drizzle the salad with a little more olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and serve in the centre of the table.
Follow Steven on Instagram… saunderschef
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