Many people may assume that Caesar dressing originated in Mexico or was influenced by Mexican cuisine due to the name. However, the creation and early development of Caesar dressing actually occurred in the United States. In this article, we will explore the origins of Caesar dressing and how it got its name.
The Invention of Caesar Dressing
Caesar dressing was invented in 1924 by an Italian immigrant named Caesar Cardini who owned a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. However, Cardini was living in San Diego at the time and he operated restaurants on both sides of the border. The original Caesar salad is said to have been improvised by Cardini on the Fourth of July weekend at his restaurant in Tijuana when a rush depleted the kitchen’s supplies. According to the legend, Cardini put together a salad from the scraps that were left over in the kitchen, adding dramatic flair by dressing the salad at the diners’ tableside.
The key ingredients in Cardini’s original Caesar salad were romaine lettuce, garlic, croutons, Parmesan cheese, boiled eggs, olive oil, and Worcestershire sauce. The dressing also included lemon juice and mustard. Cardini did not actually document his recipe, but his daughter Rosa later helped put the recipe down on paper. Rosa’s version did not include anchovies, which are a key ingredient found in many Caesar dressings today.
Early Popularity in the U.S.
Even though Cardini’s restaurant was located in Tijuana, the Caesar salad achieved most of its early fame on the U.S. side of the border. Hollywood celebrities discovered the salad at Cardini’s restaurant while prohibition was in effect in the 1920s. They were attracted to Tijuana as a place where they could drink freely and enjoy good food at the same time. Word spread about the unique, tasty salad being made tableside at Cardini’s restaurant. The recipe was featured in a number of newspaper columns in the 1930s, helping boost its popularity.
How the Dressing Got Its Name
So how did the dressing get the name “Caesar” if it did not originate in Mexico? According to daughter Rosa, the name simply came from her father Caesar Cardini’s name. The dressing took on his name as the uniquely blended creation of the restaurant’s owner. The Cardini family says that the inclusion of anchovies came later as the recipe evolved.
Caesar Dressing Spreads Across the U.S.
By the 1950s, Caesar salad was extremely popular in the United States. It became a standard menu item at restaurants throughout the country. Cardini himself expanded beyond Tijuana with restaurants in Los Angeles and other cities. Caesar dressing could be found on store shelves and in the refrigerated sections of grocery stores. Over time, many chefs began tweaking the classic recipe, adding ingredients like Worcestershire sauce and anchovies. The Cardini family still produces bottled Caesar dressing made from Rosa’s original recipe and distributed globally.
Caesar Salad Nutrition Facts
|Amount Per Serving
The table above shows nutrition information for a typical Caesar salad with dressing. It contains 16 grams of fat per serving, coming mostly from the oil and cheese in the dressing. The salad also provides a small amount of fiber, protein, and carbs. Keep in mind that nutrition values can vary widely depending on specific ingredients used.
Modern Caesar Salad Variations
While the original Caesar salad dressing contained no anchovies, this fish is now considered a standard ingredient in the dressing. Some chefs add eggs or egg yolk to help create the creamy emulsion. Modern recipes may call for substituting alternative oils like canola or olive oil rather than the original olive oil. The lemon juice provides welcome acidity and brightness to cut through the rich, salty flavors. Worcestershire sauce offers umami depth.
Over the years, all kinds of ingredients have been added to Caesar salads beyond the original lettuce, cheese, croutons and dressing. Some popular add-ins include grilled chicken or shrimp, roasted vegetables like zucchini or eggplant, avocado, and bacon pieces. The creamy dressing pairs well with all of these additional ingredients.
The Appeal of Caesar Salad
So why has Caesar salad stood the test of time and remained so popular through the years? A few factors help explain its lasting appeal and versatility.
The flavors and textures of a Caesar salad are unique. The cool, crunchy romaine lettuce pairs with highly savory Parmesan cheese, nutty croutons, and the rich, garlicky dressing. Anchovies add a tasty umami pop. The lemon brightens everything up. No other salad really mimics these particular flavors.
Sense of Indulgence
Caesar salad comes across as an indulgent treat thanks to the egg, oil, and cheese in the dressing. Even though recipes lighten up these ingredients, the salad retains a luxurious, special feel. The tableside tossing by Cardini added to the sense of theater and indulgence.
While the dressing defines the Caesar salad, the vegetable base and add-ins can vary. This adaptability enables the salad to feel fresh in many different combinations. For example, kale can sub for romaine, chicken for more protein, or croutons can be eliminated if desired. The tangy dressing pulls it all together.
Though associated with Mexico due to its name, the origins of Caesar salad actually trace back to an Italian immigrant working in restaurants on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Cardini’s creativity spawned an iconic salad dressing that became a sensation in the U.S. in the mid-1900s. The unique flavors of Caesar dressing along with its adaptability help explain why the salad has remained popular to this day. Though many variations exist, the classic combo of romaine lettuce, Parmesan cheese, croutons and garlic-anchovy dressing come together to deliver a uniquely delicious flavor experience.