February 11, 2016

History of Caesar Salad or Aviator's Salad 1940s Recipe

This recipe was cooked for the Historical Food Fortnightly. A yearly challenge that encourages bloggers to cook a historical food every two weeks. The inspiration for this recipe came from my grandma who recently went out to eat with some family members. She ordered a Caesar Salad which is one of her favorites but she couldn't say anything favorable about it.

"A Caesar salad used to be a big to do. The chef would bring the ingredients to the table and make it fresh in front of you. This one they just handed it to me and the dressing was from a bottle!"

Which got me wondering why this particular salad was such a big deal and how far away from the my grandma's amazing recipe was from the originals. How old is Caesar Salad anyway? Sounded like the perfect recipe to cook for the history detective challenge!

Like with many foods, various people have claimed to be the inventor of the Caesar salad. One would think the dish has obvious old world origins but it turns out it is an American/Mexican invention. The most likely inventor is Caesar Cardini an Italian-American restaurant owner who took advantage of prohibition by establishing Caesar's Palace in Tijuana which attracted people looking to drink legally.

As the story goes, the 4th of July weekend in 1924 was particularly busy. So busy the restaurant started running out of food. Caesar mixed together left over ingredients and tried to make up for the limited dish with fanfare at the table. The dish was made with full leaves of romaine lettuce so diners could eat pieces with their hands in traditional Italian fashion. 

Caesar's brother Alex, made a similar dish, substituting anchovy paste for Worcestershire sauce, which he called Aviator's Salad. His story is that he served it to pilots from Rockwell Field Air Force for breakfast after they drank too much and missed curfew. Alex being a pilot himself during WWI named the dish in honor of the pilots.  Eventually aviator's Salad became more popular and eventually became known as Caesar Salad. (1)  Julia Child's claimed that she remembered being served the dish at Caesar's restaurant in the 20s but not what was in it and by the 1950s it was a household dish.        

The Challenge: History Detective (January 29 - February 11) For this challenge, you get to be the detective! Either use clues from multiple recipes to make a composite recipe, or choose a very vague recipe and investigate how it was made.

The Date/Year and Region: 1924 invented in Mexico, popularized in the 1940s in the US. 

The Recipe


- 3 cloves Garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- Juice of 1/2 Lemon
- 1/4 teaspoon Dry Mustard
- 1 spoonful of Worcestershire Sauce
-  Anchovy paste, to taste
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, freshly grated
-  Black Pepper, freshly ground as a garnish 
- Croutons
- 1 lb Lettuce  

*Grandma says some places added a coddled egg but it's not necessary. Strangely this is my grandfather's recipe. It said so on the crumpled up recipe my grandma gave me. She said he liked it so much he convinced a chef friend in Philadelphia to give him the secret recipe.  

Instructions: Squeeze the garlic in a garlic press, straight into the oil. Add the lemon juice, mustard, Parmesan cheese and Worcestershire Sauce. Add the anchovy paste to taste. Wash and dry your lettuce, keeping the leaves full if you want a finger food or chopped if you want to use a fork. Add croutons to thee lettuce and pour on the dressing then top with freshly ground pepper.    

Time to Complete: A few minutes regardless of what Dorothy Kilgallen wrote in the newspaper in 1948 about the popular dish from California " tak[ing] ages to prepare."

Total Cost: A few dollars.

How Successful Was It?: Very successful. This recipe will have you wondering how we can even call that stuff in the bottle Caesar dressing.

How Accurate Is It?: I used the coddled egg but having had it without the coddled egg, it really doesn't need it. The traditional recipe calls for lime juice instead of lemon but it seems almost immediately other restaurants were using lemons instead due to a mistranslation.   

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