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What is a Caesar Salad?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A Caesar salad is a salad made classically with romaine lettuce, croutons, grated Parmesan cheese, and a vinaigrette dressing. This basic salad is immensely popular among a diverse cross-section of humanity, and a wide number of variations on the basic Caesar are served and sold all over the world. Many restaurants have a Caesar of some form or another on their menus, and it is often prepared at home as well, sometimes with additional ingredients like grilled chicken or anchovies.

Credit for the invention of the Caesar salad is generally given to Caesar and Alex Cardini, brothers who ran a restaurant in Mexico during the Prohibition era. According to popular mythology, when a Fourth of July rush wiped out their kitchen supplies, the brothers combined the ingredients on hand, tossing them tableside for extra flair, and the Caesar salad was born. This event took place around 1924, and since no earlier claims for the invention have been put forward, it is probably safe to assume that credit should indeed rest with the Cardinis.

According to Caesar Cardini, the dressing includes mustard, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, wine vinegar, lime or lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, and a raw or coddled egg. Ideally the garlic should be pressed in the olive oil and allowed to soak, creating a stronger flavor, and Cardini disapproves of the addition of anchovies, claiming that the Worcestershire sauce provides the hint of fishy flavor which is needed.

The romaine leaves in a Caesar salad are traditionally left whole, as the salad is meant to be eaten with the fingers, although many diners are not aware of this. The marriage of crisp, cool romaine, crunchy croutons, salty fresh-ground Parmesan, and the tangy dressing is viewed by some to be one of the finest culinary experiences in the world. Alas, the pure Caesar has many imitators, including versions made with other cheeses, cut lettuce, various meats, and adulterations like parsley.

Some people choose to omit the raw egg in Caesar salad dressing, due to concerns about food-borne illness such as salmonella. It is possible to use pasteurized egg products to create the desired texture and flavor without the danger, and these products are used in commercial Caesar dressings, which are available at many markets. You can also make the dressing yourself, of course, with or without raw egg; you may find that a fresh, home-made dressing transforms the flavor of the salad, explaining why it has become so popular with such simple ingredients.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Saraq90 — On Sep 27, 2011

@Sinbad - I did not know that Caesar salad originated in Mexico. I would have not thought that either, because besides the romaine lettuce part, the ingredients are not really what I would think of as "Mexican". But I guess that is why it was made out of just what the Cardini brother's had left in their restaurant.

I love all types of salads, but you can not go wrong with a Caesar! The only thing I change when making a Caesar at home is to add other vegetables, like tomatoes and onions, because I love fresh vegetables so much.

By Sinbad — On Sep 26, 2011

Did anybody else wrongly think that the original Caesar salad was Italian or at least European?

It seems to me that Caesar salad is never on the menu at Mexican restaurants, so that's why I never would have guessed it likely originated in Mexico, whereas it seems to be a staple at Italian-themed restaurants!

Also, I agree with the other posters here – nothing beats a fresh Caesar salad. With its crisp romaine lettuce, crunchy croutons, and ridiculously good dressing – I can’t think of a better salad.

By bluespirit — On Sep 25, 2011

I loved Caesar salad but I found out that it had a lot of calories so I avoided it for a bit.

But then like @cafe41 I found out that Caesar dressing (which causes the bulk of the calorie count) comes in low calorie versions.

I had to go through a trial and error process but I have found both a vinaigrette and creamy version of the salad dressing in lower calorie version that does taste good.

I think the lower calorie versions I found were good because unlike most lower calorie versions of dressings, the company that makes these dressings didn't just replace the fat and calorie laden ingredients with sugar, rather they added lots of spices for added taste.

But I also think that every now and then you have to have regular Caesar dressing, as it is so tasty that a little bit goes a long way.

So although most restaurants don’t like to put the Caesar dressing on the side because by their definition a Caesar salad’s dressing is mixed in, I say go ahead and order it on the side and that way you can control the outrageous amounts of dressing that restaurants usually want to put on their salads.

By dfoster85 — On Sep 25, 2011

You can really tell when a restaurant makes their own Caesar dressing; there's nothing like it. I love a small Caesar salad before a meal if the dressing is fresh-made. I do find that most restaurants over-dress the salad, if you don't get the dressing on the side.

I've never seem a Caesar salad with whole leaves! It seems like that would be messy. I have, however, seen it made with a whole wedge of the head of romaine, usually grilled, and that's pretty tasty and a fun novelty.

By cafe41 — On Sep 25, 2011

I really like Caesar salad but I realize that it has a lot of calories. What I do to make my Caesar salad lower in calories is leave the dressing to the side and just dip my salad slightly in the dressing.

I end up using about half of the dressing that I normally would use, and the salad actually tastes better that way. I really don’t like the taste of the low fat Caesar salad dressing so this is the best way to control the calories in this salad.

If you use all of the regular dressing and pour it over the salad it will not only taste too rich, but you won’t be able to control the calories or the fat in the salad.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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