Caesar salad is a thing of beauty, but finding a well-made Caesar these days is next to impossible. The chaining of American restaurants has led to all sorts of tame and lame versions of America’s classic dishes, and my beloved Caesar is one of the casualties. How can something so simple as lettuce and croutons with an olive oil-based dressing be so blandly executed?
In this Cajun Creole version, I return to the basics and put a South Louisiana spin on it. The inspiration for my recipe came from a visit to my home by my friend Kari Lauritzen Weaver, a professional chef from Los Angeles. More precisely, Kari is a chef-for-hire who will cook an intimate meal or a full scale dinner party for her well-healed Hollywood clientele – Barbra Streisand being her most famous. Yes, my friend actually cooked an elegant dinner for Barbra and friends in her Malibu mansion — a dream assignment for most any chef.
It was Kari’s first visit to Acadiana and our afternoon was planned around a foodie’s road trip to the faces and places of South Louisiana. A light lunch was in order, and her arrival at noon prompted me to whip up a basic Caesar, but with a tasty twist to properly introduce her to Cajun country.
The classic Caesar was invented in – of all places – Tijuana, Mexico by Italian restaurateur Caesar Cardini. Tableside preparation set this dish apart, and it quickly became a classic white tablecloth dish in America’s best restaurants. I first saw this done many years ago at Broussard’s, a renowned restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and it made an impression on me. It quickly became a part of my recipe repertoire.
My version adheres to Mr. Cardini’s rules, but for three additions – smoked oysters, fresh Louisiana oysters and crawfish. I supplement my anchovy-infused dressing with an addition of canned smoked oysters which adds a briny, smoky flavor. And crowning the salad with crisp, fried Louisiana oysters and crawfish tails is a no-brainer.
Kari was most impressed with the dish and returned to California with an endless source of South Louisiana inspiration and ingredients. Who knows? Maybe Barbra Streisand is dining on this Cajun Creole Caesar tonight and singing our praise.
Fried Oyster and Crawfish Caesar Salad
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Tip: If outside of Louisiana, order your crawfish tails here. Find smoked oysters in most any supermarket right next to the canned anchovies. Buy the fresher, whole heads of Romaine lettuce, not the pre-washed and pre-cut bagged version. Find a quality Parmigiano Reggiano, not the stuff in the green can. Same with croutons – make your own and you will never use store-bought again. The coddled (between raw and soft-boiled) eggs are classic but optional. This recipe makes more dressing than you will need, so save the rest for your next Caesar.
For the salad and dressing:
2 heads Romaine lettuce
4 large eggs
1 tin of canned flat anchovies
1 tin of canned smoked oysters
4 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons Creole mustard
2 teaspoons Tabasco hot sauce
1 large fresh lemon, halved
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil, plus more
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups freshly made croutons
1 cup yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
Wash the Romaine leaves and dry on paper towels. Leave a few of the leaves whole and tear the rest into bite-sized pieces. Place in a mixing bowl and refrigerate.
To coddle the eggs, place the eggs in a pot of water and bring to a boil. Immediately turn off the heat and let the eggs cook for no more than 1 minute. Remove the eggs and rinse under cold water. Peel the eggs and scoop out the cooked whites and the runny yolk into the container of a blender.
Add all of the anchovies and smoked oysters along with their liquid into the same container of the blender. Add the Worcestershire, mustard, Tabasco and squeeze in the lemon juice, removing any seeds. Add 2 tablespoons of the cheese. Turn the blender on low.
While the blender is on low, drizzle the olive oil until an emulsion forms and all the ingredients are incorporated. Taste the dressing for balance and flavor. Add more olive oil to round out the flavors and thin out the dressing.
For the fried oysters and crawfish:
4 cups canola oil
3 large eggs
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons Cajun Creole seasoning
1 dozen fresh Louisiana oysters
1 pound Louisiana crawfish tails
In a pot or skillet on medium high heat, add the oil and bring to a temperature of 375º F.
In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the oysters.
In a mixing bowl, add the cornmeal and stir in the flour and dry seasoning. Add the oysters and bread them evenly. Add the oysters to the oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
In the same mixing bowl, add the crawfish tails to the eggs and then into the mixing bowl with the seasoned cornmeal to coat evenly. Add the crawfish to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
For assembling the salad, remove the lettuce from the refrigerator, and with paper towels dry up any moisture that has accumulated at the bottom of the bowl. Add the croutons. Pour over just enough of the dressing to coat the leaves. Add half of the remaining cheese. With two large spoons, toss the lettuce and the croutons with the dressing. Add more dressing if needed, or reserve the remaining dressing for another use. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese.
On individual cold dinner plates, arrange the whole Romaine leaves and bite-sized greens along with the croutons. Place several of the sliced cherry tomatoes around the plate and top with several of the fried oysters and crawfish.
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