Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing is quick, easy, and flavorful, taking only 15 minutes to make. This recipe is absolutely better than store bought, and will spoil you for any other Caesar dressing!
[June, 2021: I've reworked the recipe and updated this post with all new pictures. Enjoy!]
Why this recipe works
- You control how garlicky or lemony the finished Caesar dressing is
- Using fresh ingredients gives the dressing bright flavor
- You can make it in a food processor or by hand
Let’s talk about getting dressed…er…I mean dressing your salad. Salad dressing is one of those easy-to-make-but I-don’t-know-how/want-to products.
From simple herb vinaigrettes recipes to a (slightly) more energetic Caesar salad dressing recipe, knowing a couple of simple tricks can lead to a wide variety of flavors with which to enhance your greens.
I’ve discussed the recipe ratios for scones, pound cakes, and pie crusts before, so you won’t be surprised that there’s an easy recipe ratio for vinaigrettes (aka oil and vinegar dressings), 1-3 (1-part vinegar to 3-parts oil). The rest is just seasonings.
For Caesar dressing, there's a little bit of science you need to know to be successful.
Make a stable emulsion
Here’s your word-of-the-week: emulsion, meaning a mixture that doesn’t separate.
(Oh boy, here we go)
We all know that oil and water don’t stay mixed, and you have to shake a vinaigrette to temporarily combine them. For a more permanent solution (like in classic Caesar salad dressing), keeping oil and vinegar mixed needs some help.
Look at that salad dressing bottle in your refrigerator. Chances are there is some chemical ingredient listed as an emulsifier, i.e. something that keeps the oil and water in suspension.
Lethicin, a substance found in egg yolks, acts as an emulsifier by attaching a water molecule to one end and a fat molecule to the other, thereby keeping them from separating. That’s why you’ll see it on a Caesar dressing label.
Homemade Caesar salad dressing is made by combining the “wet” ingredients, then slowly drizzling in the oil so the lethicin in the yolks has a chance to grab those fat molecules and keep them in suspension with the water molecules.
What you need
Most of the ingredients for a homemade Caesar salad dressing recipe are commonplace, with one exception, the anchovy paste.
You have the option of using whole anchovies and making a paste with them yourself (especially if you're going to make the dressing by hand). If you don't have (or don't like) anchovies, you can substitute ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (or to taste), or just leave it out altogether.
Most classic Caesar dressings are made with raw egg yolk to help with the emulsion. Since good quality mayonnaise is made from egg yolks (and is usually pasteurized), you can safely use it as a substitute. Plus, you don’t have to separate eggs.
You can make a Caesar dressing two ways, by hand or using a food processor.
I use my Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus food processor because (1) I don’t have to mince garlic, and (2) the holes in the lid help to slow the addition of the oil.
Another tool I use is this really cool KitchenAid citrus squeezer when I need to juice a lemon. It strains out the seeds so all you pour out is juice. You know, so you're not chasing seeds around the bowl trying to fish them out!
The process for making a homemade Caesar salad dressing recipe is quick and easy with the right tools. However, I'll give you instructions to make the dressing by hand in the recipe card below, don't worry!
How to make Caesar salad dressing
Step 1: Start the base
Chop the garlic with salt until the garlic is finely minced (photo 1).
Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, anchovy paste, and balsamic vinegar, and pulse to combine (photo 2).
You can adjust the balance of lemon juice and garlic at this point, but remember that the oils will mute the sharpness a bit.
Step 2: Create the Emulsion
Create the emulsion starting with the olive oil. Begin adding the oil through the lid at a slow stream a little at a time, pulsing the processor on/off to avoid heating and breaking the emulsion (photo 3).
Similarly stream the canola oil after all the olive oil has been added.
Step 3: Add the last flavorings
Add the parmesan cheese and black pepper, and pulse just to mix them in (photo 4).
Here's another chance to adjust the seasonings as desired.
Step 4: Transfer to a jar
Transfer the dressing to a glass jar and serve (photo 5). Caesar dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Questions asked and answered
Here are some questions you might have...
If you add the oils too fast, the dressing will “break” (the emulsion separates), and you’ll have a tasty, but messier, dressing. If your dressing breaks, you can fix it using this method from Serious Eats.
Sure! Just substitute a vegan mayonnaise and replace the anchovies with ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce and 1 tablespoon of capers. You can leave out the parmesan cheese or use a vegan replacement. Season to taste.
Over time I’ve discovered some tips for making my homemade Caesar salad dressing:
- Use a combination of olive and canola oil to lighten up the mixture (in texture, not calories)
- Add the olive oil first because, as a heavier oil than canola, the emulsion holds together better
- When adding in the oils, pulse the food processor rather than just let it run so the dressing doesn’t heat up and break
Learn from my experience, Grasshopper!
Bright flavor abounds
The balance of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar really brightens the flavor of this Caesar dressing, while the garlic, parmesan, and anchovy paste pack a flavor punch. The mouthfeel is creamy but not heavy from using both the oliva and canola oils.
This truly is the best Caesar salad dressing you'll ever have.
My older daughter tells me that I’ve spoiled her for Caesar salad in restaurants or from a jar, that’s how good this homemade Caesar salad dressing is!
So don’t reach for a bottled salad dressing. Invest in some good quality vinegars and oils, and let your imagination run free.
You’ll be able to pronounce everything that goes into what dresses your salad, and your taste buds will definitely thank you!
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Did you know that salad dressing is a form of an emulsion sauce? There are temporary and stable emulsions, and they can add a layer of flavor to your dishes. Give these a try!
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The Best Quick & Easy Homemade Caesar Salad Dressing
- 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed from 1 lemon, or more to taste,
- 2 tablespoon mayonnaise, see Recipe Notes
- 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or 4 anchovy fillets, minced, see Recipe Notes
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup canola oil
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- Using a food processor: Place garlic cloves and salt in a small food processor. Pulse until the garlic is minced.
- Add the lemon juice, mayonnaise, anchovy paste (or anchovy fillets, if using), and balsamic vinegar, and pulse to combine. Taste for salt, garlic, and lemon juice balance.
- Starting with the olive oil, begin adding the oil through the lid at a slow stream, pulsing the processor on/off to avoid heating and breaking the emulsion. Similarly stream the canola oil after all the olive oil has been added.
- Add Parmesan cheese and black pepper, then pulse just to combine. Adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Make by hand: Place garlic and salt (and anchovy fillets, if using) on a cutting board. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, carefully smash ingredients together until mixture becomes a thick paste and is thoroughly blended. Transfer paste to a small bowl.
- Add lemon juice, mayonnaise, anchovy paste (if using), and balsamic vinegar to the paste, and whisk until blended.
- Slowly stream in the oils (first olive oil, then canola oil) in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth.
- Whisk in parmesan cheese, and season with black pepper to taste.
- Continuing: Transfer to a glass jar and serve. Caesar dressing can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.