Sunday, September 29, 2013

On the Cutting of Lettuce (and a new Caesar salad)

Opinions abound on the cutting of lettuce, both in the prep kitchen and at the dining table.  It's one of those things that people are completely sure about and often wrong. For prep, it's generally acknowledged that tearing, as apposed to cutting, lettuce is less damaging to the structure of leaf. The nerds investigators at Cooks Illustrated tested the phenomena and more or less proved what I always heard growing up: that sliced lettuce will brown on the edges (but not for several days after slicing).

Even so, my standard operating procedure when making Caesar salad is to use a serrated knife to slice Romaine hearts. I don't use one of those "lettuce" knives either - just my favorite Henkels Utility knife. We go thru lettuce quickly so browning isn't an issue. In fact, when I make Caesar I routinely use all the Romaine hearts in the bag, so there's none leftover to go brown anyway.

Then there's the issue concerning the etiquette of cutting salad with a knife at the dining table. The new Emily Post assures readers that it is, in fact, ok to cut your lettuce at the dining table. Apparently, the no-no originated along with carbon-steel knife blades that would become discolored and corrode from the acid in salad dressing. With the routine use of stainless steel and silver, knives are safe from corrosion and diners are cleared for cutting up lettuce. This clearance is acknowledged in such few circles that I can hardly advocate it. I don't want to be blamed when your bossy aunt pulls you aside for a primer on table etiquette when she catches you cutting your salad.
Cutting salad is usually avoidable, anyway. Except in the case of the new Caesar I've been making since this summer. I've been making Kristine's Caesar dressing since she taught it to me ten years ago. This summer I came across a recipe in The Art of Simple Food and decided to shake things up. This new recipe - nearly identical to the original - is a lot like what Mary used to make at Cafe Nola. I've been drizzling it onto long, thin, delicate Romaine hearts, along with croutons and ribbons of Parmesan. Those long, thin Romaine hearts are beautiful on the plate. And they can basically be cut with the side of your fork since the spines are so crunchy. But I'm spreading the word about the acceptability of taking a knife to lettuce at the dining table.

Here's that recipe:

Cafe Caesar for Romaine Hearts
Print recipe only here

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS
2 cloves garlic
2-3 anchovy fillets
1 T red wine vinegar
1 T lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
Fresh ground pepper

METHOD
Peel the garlic and and pound in a mortar and pestle, mashing it up. Add the anchovy fillets and continue to mash into a paste.

Measure the lemon juice and vinegar into a small measuring cup. Add the garlic/anchovy mash and whisk with a fork to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

SERVING
Stack individual Romaine leaves on large plates. Drizzle some dressing on top. Using a vegetable peeler, peel long ribbons of Parmesan or Grana Padano off a large block. Serve with croutons, if desired.

No comments: