ON THE LIST of American culinary accomplishments, Caesar salad rates a prime position in terms of both reputation and gustatory merit. It was even designated, in 1953, by the International Society of Epicures in Paris as the greatest recipe to originate in the Americas in 50 years.
Yet, it's fairly well documented that this essentially simple concoction of romaine lettuce, coddled eggs, garlic-flavored croutons, lemon juice, oil and parmesan cheese is actually an import. It was created, it is said, on July 4, 1924, by Caesar Cardini, an Italian immigrant, at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.
During the 1920s, Tijuana was a popular destination of the Hollywood movie set, which frequently trekked south for prohibition-banned beer and booze. Word of an extraordinary salad at Caesar's place spread. One of Julia Child's early restaurant memories was a much-anticipated journey with her parents to Caesar's to taste his creation. "How could a mere salad cause such emotion?" says Child in retrospect, having been, it seems, duly impressed.
Though Caesar's was perhaps the most celebrated, other salads to which the U.S. has stronger claim also gained fame and following in the early part of the century. At a time when affluent Americans took to the European-style salads being served in this country's grand hotels, two salads came out of the same kitchen. They were the Palace Court and the Green Goddess salads, both from San Francisco's plush Palace Hotel.
The first, probably created around 1910, was a towering composition of lettuce, thick tomato slices, a tall mound of crab meat salad capped by an artichoke bottom, all dramatically crowned by a crab claw and asparagus spear. (One sympathizes with the waiter who had to convey this elaborate assembly to table without toppling it!) The second -- a green salad dressed with a mixture of herbs, anchovies, tarragon vinegar and mayonnaise and topped with diced chicken, shrimp or crab meat -- was created in the mid-1920s for actor George Arliss, who was starring in the San Francisco run of William Archer's play, The Green Goddess.
Not too long after Caesar and the Palace Court were concocting their salads, Robert Cobb, owner of Hollywood's famous Brown Derby, tossed up his own creation. Cobb Salad, which seems to have all but disappeared from the scene, was, we're told, the result of one of Cobb's late-night forays into the Brown Derby refrigerator. On this occasion, he came up with bacon, tomatoes, avocado, chicken, eggs, chives, roquefort and some greens -- a combination that apparently struck his fancy and became a favorite of the celluloid elite who frequented his restaurant.
As far as we know, the only East-Coast contribution to this collection from America's salad days was that of Oscar Tschirky, legendary maitre d'hotel of New York's original Waldorf-Astoria hotel. Oscar's Waldorf Salad -- a mixture of apples, celery and mayonnaise -- was a rather revolutionary concept when it was first served in 1893 at the elaborate charity benefit that marked the opening of the hotel. It was conceived as a palate-cleansing course during the heavy meal that was hosted by Mrs. William Vanderbilt.
Following are what are said to be the original recipes for these five salads: CAESAR SALAD (4 to 6 servings)
Contrary to modern interpretations of the dish, the original recipe did not include anchovies. According to John Mariani's "Dictionary of American Food & Drink" (Ticknor and Fields, $19.95) from which this recipe is taken, Cardini intended the salad to be subtly flavored and said that the only hint of anchovy in his creation came from the worcestershire sauce. Many devotees of the salad, accustomed to anchovies and at least twice the quantity of cheese called for here, may, in fact, find the original too subtly flavored for their taste. 4 cloves garlic 3/4 cup olive oil 4 slices white bread, crusts removed and diced in 1/2-inch pieces 2 medium heads romaine 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 eggs Freshly ground black pepper Juice of 1 lemon 6 drops worcestershire sauce 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Mash two cloves of garlic in 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Spread the bread cubes on a baking sheet and dry in the oven, basting with the garlic oil. Thoroughly rinse and dry the romaine and place in a large salad bowl. Mash the two remaining garlic cloves with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and strain into a small skillet. Add the croutons and heat, tossing them in the garlic oil; add to the salad bowl with the romaine.
Boil the eggs for exactly 1 minute. Pour 4 tablespoons of the oil over the lettuce and toss to coat. Sprinkle lettuce with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper and the remaining oil and toss. Add the lemon juice and worcestershire sauce. Break in the eggs and toss. Add the cheese, toss and top with the croutons. Serve on chilled plates. GREEN GODDESS SALAD (Palace Hotel, San Francisco) (8 servings)
This salad and Palace Court Salad (which follows) are still prepared at San Francisco's Sheraton-Palace, formerly the Palace Hotel, according to these recipes. Green Goddess is more famous for its anchovy-spiked dressing than its other ingredients. 2 quarts of mixed salad greens such as romaine, escarole and chicory 1 clove garlic 8-10 anchovy fillets, minced 1 scallion, minced 1/4 cup minced parsley 2 tablespoons minced fresh tarragon 1/4 cup tarragon vinegar 1/2 cup minced chives 3 cups mayonnaise 4 cups diced chicken, crab meat or shrimp
Thoroughly rinse and dry greens. Tear into bite-sized pieces into a salad bowl that has been rubbed with the garlic. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the anchovies, scallion, parsley, tarragon, vinegar, chives and mayonnaise and mix together well. Pour dressing over greens and toss well. Top with chicken, crab or shrimp. PALACE COURT SALAD (4 servings) 2 cups crab meat 1 cup chopped celery Mayonnaise Salt Freshly ground black pepper Lemon juice Shredded lettuce 4 thick slices tomato 8 marinated artichoke bottoms 3 hard-cooked eggs, chopped Optional garnishes: Crab claws or pimiento strips, asparagus spears, black olives, lemon wedges
Combine the crab meat and celery in a medium mixing bowl with just enough mayonnaise to hold the mixture together. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Arrange a half-inch deep bed of shredded lettuce on four individual salad plates. Center a tomato slice on each plate and top with an artichoke bottom. Form a portion of the crab meat mixture into a tower-shaped mound on top of the artichoke and top with another artichoke bottom. Sprinkle the chopped egg around the edge of each salad. Garnish plates with crab claws or pimiento strips, asparagus spears, black olives and lemon wedges. COBB SALAD (The Brown Der is the decorative way in which its ingredients are arranged on a large salad plate. At the Brown Derby, it was brought to the table without dressing and tossed by the waiter just before serving so that the finely chopped ingredients did not become soggy. This is said to be Cobb's original recipe, passed on by a West coast epicure who frequented the restaurant in its heyday. 1/2 head iceberg lettuce 1/2 bunch watercress 1 small head chicory 1/2 head romaine 2 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and finely diced 2 poached chicken breasts, finely diced 6 slices crisp bacon, finely diced 2 tablespoons chopped chives 1 avocado, peeled and chopped 3 hard-cooked eggs, finely diced 1/2 cup finely grated roquefort cheese 1 cup french dressing
Thoroughly rinse, dry and finely shred the greens. Arrange on a large serving plate. Arrange the chopped tomato in a neat strip across the center of the salad. Arrange the chicken in strips on either side of the tomato. Sprinkle the bacon on top, along with the chives, and arrange the avocado around the edge. Top with the eggs and cheese. Present the salad at table with the dressing on the side. The moment before serving, pour on the dressing and toss. WALDORF SALAD (The Waldorf Astoria, New York) (6 servings)
This is the Waldorf Astoria's recipe for "Authentic Waldorf Salad," though the cookbook by "Oscar of the Waldorf" (circa 1896) lists only apples, celery and mayonnaise in its recipe. The walnuts were, apparently, added later. 2 tart red apples, unpeeled, cored and diced (1 1/2 cups) 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 cup diced celery 1/2 cup mayonnaise Lettuce leaves 1 cup chopped walnuts
Place the apples in a small mixing bowl and toss in the lemon juice. Add the celery and mayonnaise and mix together well. Arrange leaves of crisp, chilled lettuce on 6 individual salad plates. Spoon the salad mixture onto the lettuce leaves. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts and serve immediately.