Defy and Conquer

Recipe 2: Julia’s Caesar
Victory 2: “Abandoning convention” by using mayonnaise instead of raw egg to make Caesar salad dressing

When it comes to cooking from recipes, there are three ingredients that can push me to confidently—one could say, resolutely—ignore the instructions. They are butter, garlic, and cheese. Did the recipe call for one tablespoon of unsalted butter? I’ll use a tablespoon and a half of salted butter. How many cloves of garlic again? I’m just going to pretend I didn’t see that and add three more cloves. Only 1/4 cup of grated cheese? I’ll make that 1/3 cup, thank you very much.

That was how I approached Julia Turshen’s Caesar salad dressing the first time I made it last week. Turshen herself was defying convention and saving us from salmonella anxiety. So I, the not-very-experienced cook, decided to defy a few instructions in a recipe, perfected by a very successful and beloved cook and cookbook author. Instead of one small garlic clove, I went for three small garlic cloves. And instead of 1/4 cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese, I asked my boyfriend (who is much more efficient than I in this matter) to grate a bit more cheese into the measuring cup.

I thought I was going to breeze through this recipe and have a beautiful dressing—my very first Caesar dressing—in a few minutes. My confidence dropped as soon as I saw the texture of the dressing. Apart from the quantity of a couple of ingredients, I did everything by the book. I only gave the dressing a few pulses in the blender after adding the cheese, so why did it look so gross? Did I use too much cheese, even though I added only a bit more than what the recipe called for? Would it have been different with a food processor, which I don’t own? If I had pureed the dressing in the blender a little longer, would that make the dressing way too liquidy?

Turshen also suggested an alternative method, which is to finely chop the anchovies and whisk everything together. Perhaps that yields a creamier dressing? If you’ve used this method, please let me know.

Flavor-wise, though, it was very good. It was garlicky and anchovy-licious. It was addictive, in the I-can’t-stop-licking-the-plate kind of way.  My boyfriend, bless his ultra-sensitive taste buds, said right away, “The garlic is very…dominant.” Tough, sweetie, tough.

The texture bothered me so much that I decided to make it again this afternoon. This time, I used only one small garlic clove and didn’t grate more Parmesan cheese than instructed. The only thing I did differently was the pureeing. Instead of just a few pulses after adding the cheese to the dressing, I just pureed the hell out of it until I got the smoothness that I wanted. Success this time in terms of both flavor and texture!.

I just want to add another unofficial victory to this second recipe. And that is tinkering till you know which rule to follow and which to break.

Turshen wrote that when she was a private chef, this recipe was her most in-demand one, so much so that many a fridge in New York City contained jars of her dressing. Well, at least one fridge in Bangkok has a Julia’s Caesar in it now.