Apr 26 2012
It’s possible that Caesar salad may be the first truly globalised recipe (provided one excludes the fat, salt, sugar and multiple-chemical delivery systems marketed by fast food dealers). The popular assemblage, once the preserve of restaurants with Maitre d’s that let you know you’d failed by the precise way they called you “Sir” or “Madame”, can now be found on menus in everything from roadside cafes to local bistros and high-end establishments, and in cities all over the world from Santiago to Stockholm, in South Africa, Singapore, Sydney and, of course, Siem Reap.
I’ve always avoided them on the basis that the dressing includes the dreaded anchovy, as horrible an idea as I’m capable of imagining on a lovely, sunny morning. But after someone put the question, I thought I’d better find out more and discovered that the original recipe doesn’t include anchovies at all. Instead, the inventor of the recipe relied on adding Worcestershire sauce to add a subtle hint of anchovies but eschewed adding the strongly flavoured fish himself. My hero. Moreover, contrary to widely held belief, nor does a ‘proper’ Caesar salad necessarily include a softly poached egg perched gently on top, or eggs of any variety in anything except the dressing.
It seems fitting that the recipe’s origins are global too. The salad was invented by an Italian chef who lived in California, but worked in Tijuana, Mexico during the American Prohibition years of the 1920s. Tijuana was then popular with the monied California set, who could duck over the border for a drink and one day (July 4, 1924) our enterprising chef, Senor Cardini Caesar, finding himself short of ingredients, knocked up what he could with whatever he had left and mixed his salad table-side to give it an extra twist. It was a hit.
Here in Siem Reap, you can find a Caesar salad prepared and served this way at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. It’s a deliciously elegant dining experience that reminds you that food is supposed to be savoured, with every sense, and not scarfed down with all the engagement of a somnambulant bovine. The method is described below.
A number of other restaurants also serve up Cardini’s creation, though with considerably less aplomb than Raffles. You’ll find a really excellent version at Chilli Si Dang, served with chicken, and if you’re an anchovy fan too this one is a real must. In fact, the salad was so good it nearly killed me not to finish it because, for me, the taste of fish was uncomfortably strong (I hate fish, deeply).
Further in town, I found one at Haven that is tasty and filling, and not fishy. Haven is a newish restaurant that was set up as a training restaurant for young Cambodians. This is their first year of operations and even they are stunned at how successful they’ve been, and there are plenty of good reasons for that success. Haven should be added to everyone’s list of places they have to try in Siem Reap before they leave.
La Boulangerie also get a great thumbs up for their salad, though with a recommendation that the dressing be requested on the side. La Boulangerie is a small cafe on Street 7 owned and operated by two young Khmer entrepreneurs. They make, in my view, some of the best bread and pastries in town. Their salads, sandwiches and croque monsieurs are hard to beat too (including their create-your-own plates, which are fantastic value).
For those who are interested, I’ve pulled together a recipe from various sources, including the original recipe and the recipe in the standard textbook for American chefs, Professional Cooking. It gives the option of using anchovies according to the modern style, or Worcestershire sauce according to tradition:
1 lb Romaine or cos lettuce
2 oz thick sliced white bread
½ fl oz olive oil (for the croutons)
4 fl oz olive oil (for the dressing)
1 clove garlic
2 – 4 anchovy fillets (depending on preference)
1 raw or coddled egg yolk
6 drops of Worcestershire sauce (if not including anchovies or, indeed, even if you are)
1 fl oz freshly squeezed lemon juice or lime juice
1 oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Trim the crusts from the bread (optional – I love croutons with crusts on) and cut into centimetre-square cubes. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a pan over moderately high heat, then add the bread cubes and fry until golden and crisp. Add more oil if needed. Remove the croutons from the pan and hold in kitchen paper for service. Using garlic or rosemary oil would give the croutons a little extra flair, n’est-ce pas? Do not refrigerate.
Depending on how much garlic you like, either rub the salad bowl with a cut of garlic or leave one clove in the bowl and crush it to a paste. Here, the Professional Cooking recipe adds anchovies, though not being included in the original recipe, these could be considered optional. If you do add them, mash the garlic and anchovies to a paste, then beat in about half the olive oil to the garlic or garlic/anchovy paste.
Add the greens and toss to coat with the oil mixture, then drop the egg yolk into the bowl and toss it into the lettuce well. Some recipes call for the egg to be lightly coddled (cooked in the shell for one minute), and this will give you a thicker, more appealing, dressing.
Add the lemon juice, the rest of the oil, and the Parmesan cheese, and a little salt and pepper. Add the Worcestershire sauce if using in place of anchovies (or in addition, according to taste). Toss again until well mixed. Finally, add the croutons and toss a final time. Plate and serve.
You could, of course, skip all the palaver, and blenderise (technical term that) the dressing ingredients, and toss with the leaves and croutons at the end. Variations include adding sliced grilled chicken, a poached egg on top, Parmesan shavings, or whatever swings your Caesar boat.
Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Siem Reap
T: (063) 963 888
Fresh at Chilli Si Dang
East Riverside, Wat Bo area, Siem Reap
Off Sivatha Blvd. (behind X-Bar), Siem Reap
Street 7, Siem Reap
T: (015) 908 518
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