Caesar salads are one of the most popular salads around. They can be served as a main dish or side. Learn the basics of how to throw one together, then whip up a custom Caesar salad anytime.
What Is a Caesar Salad?
A classic Caesar salad has just a few main ingredients: greens, a creamy dressing, croutons and cheese. Toss everything together and you have a crisp, crunchy and refreshing salad.
But where did Caesar salad come from? Many people assume the salad has ties to Julius Caesar, but it actually originated in Tijuana, Mexico. Chef Caesar Cardini invented the recipe in 1924 and would assemble and serve it tableside at his namesake restaurant.
Today, there are countless variations, but the same basic components remain the same:
In this classic Caesar salad recipe, you might notice that our dressing isn’t milk-white like the kind you’d find at the grocery store. That’s because most Caesar dressings nowadays call for ingredients like mayonnaise, buttermilk or sour cream. The traditional recipe actually consists solely of egg yolk, mustard, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce, wine vinegar and lemon—plus a little S&P. When emulsified, these ingredients form simple—yet rich dressing that transforms your salad from ho-hum into a restaurant-worthy meal.
While we think there is an unbeatable richness and simplicity to old-school Caesar dressing, if the raw yolks scare you, there are plenty of tasty alternatives. This low-fat Caesar dressing lets you skip the blender. And a dash of cayenne pepper gives this easy Caesar salad dressing extra zip. Regardless of the route you choose, homemade tastes best.
Most Caesar salads are made with Romaine lettuce torn or chopped into bite-sized pieces. However, feel free to swap in any type of lettuce into your dish. Iceberg lettuce, Little Gem lettuce and endive have a similar crunchy texture to Romaine.
Pro tip: Want to impart even more flavor to your cae sal? Rub your salad bowl with crushed garlic prior to adding the lettuce. It’ll impart a subtle garlicky flavor to your dish—an impress your guests, too.
To take your Caesar salad over the top, we highly recommend making your own croutons. Sure, the boxed kind will work in pinch, but they just don’t compare to the buttery golden-brown bite of croutons made from scratch.
Fayne Lutz of Taos, New Mexico sent in this simple recipe for homemade salad croutons which we adore. Simply cube day-old bread and toss it with olive oil, minced garlic and salt. Bake at 325° until lightly browned, then store in an airtight container until ready to use. Experiment with flavor by incorporating different herbs and spices.
Perhaps the greatest thing about a Caesar salad (or any salad, really) is its use of cheese. Parmesan is the usual choice here. If you’re looking for a high-quality cheese, opt for Parmigiano Reggiano. Pick up a wedge and have at it with your grater, or use a vegetable peeler for pretty shavings. Pre-shredded also works in a pinch.
Can’t find parm? Opt for Grana Padano, pecorino or any other hard cheese.
Essential Tools for Making a Caesar Salad
To avoid a soggy salad, we recommend grabbing a salad spinner ($30) to ensure perfectly dry greens.
For the ultimate Caesar salad experience, making the dressing from scratch is a must. A quick blitz in the blender and you’ll have your very own homemade Caesar salad dressing! We love the Vitamix Explorian Blender ($345) for its speed control and self-cleaning system, but the Ninja Professional Blender ($90) works well here too.
We suggest making the Caesar salad dressing a day ahead to allow it to rest and let the flavors really come together. This salad dressing shaker ($10) is ideal for storing homemade dressing and sauces.
How to Make a Caesar Salad
For the dressing:
- 3 pasteurized large egg yolks
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- dash hot pepper sauce, optional
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the salad:
- 1 large bunch romaine
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup shaved or shredded Parmesan cheese
- Croutons for topping
Step 1: Make the Caesar dressing
In a blender, combine the first 10 ingredients for dressing; cover and process until blended. While processing, gradually add oil in a steady stream. Stir in Parmesan cheese. Chill until serving.
Pro tip: Can’t find anchovy paste? Whole anchovies work well, too.
Step 2: Prep the lettuce
Tear romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces and place in a large salad bowl.
Step 3: Assemble the salad
Pour dressing over lettuce and toss to coat. Sprinkle with cheese and croutons. Add freshly cracked pepper or a squeeze of lemon juice to taste.
Pro tip: For a restaurant-like appeal, serve your salad on chilled salad plates.
How to Make a Healthy Caesar Salad
For a healthy Caesar salad, serve the dressing on the side. Aim for a light, even coating, just enough for the dressing to complement the flavors, not overpower them.
Additionally, go light on the Parmesan cheese and croutons if you’re trying to be more health-conscious.
Caesar Salad Variations
What’s great about Caesar salad, is there’s a lot of room to expand upon it. Play around with toppings you have on hand to make the salad completely your own.
- Make it a meal by topping the salad with cubed ham, grilled chicken, salmon, crumbled bacon or even pasta.
- Get fruity: Amp up the flavor with crunchy fruit like apples or ripe pears.
- Go for the wow-factor: Impress your guests by serving your salad in a bowl made entirely of cheese. Learn how to make frico salad bowls.
How Long Will the Salad Last?
We recommend storing the lettuce, toppings and dressing separately so that the lettuce doesn’t get too soggy. An undressed Caesar salad lasts 3-5 days in the fridge.