The best Caesar salad is, for me, one in which you can taste the anchovies times a thousand. In the lettuce, in the dressing, even in the croutons. Anchovies galore.
This means that the salad can feel meaty and substantial enough to be lunch or dinner on its own, especially the way I make it: a whole romaine heart, scattered on a large plate with my extra-gutsy Caesar dressing, plus a generous handful of torn sourdough croutons, and lots of Parmesan cheese. A real knife-and-fork salad.
There’s nothing like ingesting an entire heart of romaine (or cos, as Nigella Lawson calls it, named after the Aegean island where it originated) by yourself in one sitting to make you feel virtuous and light. Did you know that one single head of romaine lettuce has a whole gram of protein? Which means all you would need to do is eat six Caesar salads to get the protein equivalent of one egg. Talk about superfood.
Back to the anchovies: I didn’t know the importance of them until I had my first “real” Caesar in Northern California. After a couple wine tastings in Napa Valley, my friend and I grabbed a quick lunch at the farm-to-table wonder Mustards Grill, where they serve a super fresh, super crunchy, anchovy-redolent gem lettuce Caesar salad. (We also ordered the sweet corn tamales and citrus black beans, which were equally divine.) The next night, we had another spectacular Caesar at Chez Panisse; again, it had great anchovy flavor with crisp California lettuce like none I’d ever tasted.
Those meals made me realize how much I had been missing in the realm of the Caesar. Everything up until then had been a mockery! A ruse! Who knew that what Caesar salad needed most was to taste even fishier?
Now, I understand that anchovies aren’t for everyone, and to those people I say: thank u, next. Maybe this recipe isn’t for you.
I’ve taken a cue from Emma, who says, “If you ask me, garlic isn’t the make-or-break ingredient. It’s anchovies. And a lot of them.” A whole can, in fact.
Because I’m all alone in the world, my Caesar salad recipe serves one (though you could certainly scale it up times two or four—lucky you).
But you know what? Even this single-serving Caesar salad dressing calls for an entire can of anchovies: most of the olive oil that the anchovies have been stored in (one tablespoon for the dressing, another for the croutons) and half of the fillets.
What Is Gim?
Gim is nori, or seaweed, that’s been brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with salt, then roasted until crispy. These days it’s marketed as “roasted seaweed snack,” I imagine because it eats like a salty chip—and that’s certainly one way my family enjoyed it growing up. But more regularly, it was a pantry staple we kept on the dining room table because it tastes great as a side dish with any meal or as a makeshift vehicle for rice.
As an adult learning to fend for himself in his own kitchen, I quickly learned that it also happens to work especially well as an ingredient in cooking.
In a Caesar salad, roasted seaweed amplifies the dressing’s salty seaside flavor, but it also provides a back note of savory nuttiness, which pairs well with the equally savory and nutty anchovies.
It’s a habit I’ve picked up from my mom. Whether it was kimchi fried rice or bibimbap, she always crumbled in some gim at the end for extra oomph. Today, in turn, I like it in avocado toast, scrambled eggs, and even sour cream dip. It adds that somethin’ somethin’ that’s hard to replicate.
In Korean, there’s a word for this über savory, nutty flavor one gets from roasted seaweed snack and other umami-laden ingredients: gosohae. There’s no perfect English translation. It describes foods that are rich, tasty, and lip-smacking. And an anchovy-rich Caesar salad is, for me, certainly that.
• 1 romaine heart, separated into individual leaves
• 1 cup torn 1-inch pieces sourdough bread, crusts removed
• 6 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons of the oil, divided)
• 1 fat garlic clove
• 1 large organic egg yolk
• 2 tablespoon rice vinegar
• 2 teaspoons sesame oil
• 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
• 1 (5-gram) packet roasted seaweed snack, crushed with your hands
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
See the full recipe on Food52.