Homemade Caesar dressing and herb vinaigrettes are wayyyy better than anything on a grocer's shelf, and you can make it in a snap!
Your salad gets dressed
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. However, making it using ingredients you have on hand is wayyyy better than anything you buy in the store. From simple herb vinaigrettes to a (slightly) more energetic Caesar dressing, knowing a couple of simple tricks can lead to a wide variety of flavors with which to enhance your greens.
First, a test
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 shake a vinaigrette to temporarily combine them. For a more permanent solution (like in a classic Caesar dressing), 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. Since good quality mayonnaise is made from egg yolks (usually pasteurized), you can safely use it as a substitute (and you don’t have to separate eggs…win!).
Classic Caesar dressing is made by combining the “wet” ingredients, then slowly drizzle in the oil so the lethicin has a chance to grab those fat molecules and keep them in suspension with the water molecules. If you add the oil too fast, the dressing will “break”, i.e. separate, and you’ll have a tasty, but messier, dressing. If your dressing breaks, you can fix it using this method from Serious Eats.
Cool tools to help along the way
Over time I’ve discovered some tips while making Caesar dressing: I use my Cuisinart Mini Prep Plus food processor because the holes in the lid help to slow the addition of the oil (and I don’t have to chop garlic!). I like to use a combination of olive and canola oil to lighten up the mixture (in texture, not calories), and I add the olive oil first because, as a heavier oil than canola, the emulsion holds together better. I’ve also learned to pulse the machine rather than just let it run so the dressing doesn’t heat up and break. Learn from my experience, Grasshopper!
Another tool I use is this really cool KitchenAid citrus squeezer when I need juice. It strains out the seeds so all your pour out is juice...you know, so you're not chasing seeds around the bowl trying to fish them out! I use it quite frequently, like when making lemon curd or, more recently, Mint Lemon Lime Bars.
Caesar Dressing made better
The process for making Caesar dressing is easy with the right tools. My recipe is adapted from The Splendid Table's Grilled Caesar Salad with Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Fried Capers (although I only use the dressing recipe). Here goes then...
Keeping it simple
What if you just want a simple herb vinaigrette? I’ve discussed the ratios for scones, pound cakes, and pie crusts before, so you won’t be surprised that there’s an easy ratio for those vinegar-and-oil dressings …1-3 (1-part vinegar to 3-parts oil). The rest is just seasonings. Simple to make, it comes together in a snap! You can find my recipe for a simple White Wine Vinaigrette here.
My older daughter tells me that I’ve spoiled her for Caesar salad in restaurants or from a jar, that’s how good this Caesar dressing is! So don’t reach for the 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!
Classic Caesar Dressing
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp anchovy paste, or 4 anchovy fillets, minced (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 Tbsp organic mayonnaise, see Recipe Notes
- 3 Tbsp lemon juice, or more to taste, freshly squeezed (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese (1 oz, 30g), freshly grated
- 1/4-1/2 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
Using a Food Processor
- Place salt and garlic cloves in a small food processor. Pulse until the garlic is minced.
- Add the anchovy paste, mayonnaise, lemon juice, 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. Stream the canola oil after all the olive oil has been added.
- Add Parmesan cheese and black pepper; pulse to combine. Adjust seasonings if needed.
- Place salt and garlic (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 anchovy paste (if using), mayonnaise, lemon juice, and vinegar to the paste, and whisk until blended.
- Add oil (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.
- Transfer to a glass jar and serve. Dressing can be stored in the refrigerater for up to 1 week.