Jessica and Loretta

I couldn’t resist trying another test recipe from the Silver Screen Suppers’ Murder She Cooked project. What I spotted was a Caesar Salad, attributed to Ruth Roman, who played gossip and beautician Loretta Spiegel in three episodes of Murder She Wrote but will always be associated with her role in Strangers On A Train (1951).

I’m quite fond of Caesar Salad. The bottles of special dressing with the picture of Caesar Cardini on the label made it seem a bit more exotic than some other salads. I came up with my own variation a couple of years ago when everyone was shrieking about the new Joker movie. Of course – there will only ever be one Joker and I made the Cesar Romero Salad in his honour.

There’s a compelling air of myth and mystery about the origins of Caesar Salad. In the 1920’s Caesar Cardini operated a restaurant in Mexico City to get around the alcohol prohibition laws. The salad is supposed to have been pulled together one weekend when they were running short of ingredients. Another story says his brother Alex invented it as Aviator Salad when entertaining pilots from a nearby airbase. Not only The Untouchables, but also Only Angels Have Wings. Whatever the truth, back in California it was Caesar Cardini who popularised the salad, preparing it at patrons tables and later branched out into bottling and merchandising it. You can find out more about the legend of Caesar’s Salad here.

What I like about Ruth Roman’s Caesar Salad, is that it seems like a step back to 1950’s California when Ruth had just made that big hit with Hitchcock. These days, you often get Caesar Salad as a main course fattened out with chicken and bacon and even anchovies ( I remember getting Caesar Salad in the cafe of the Globe Theatre back in 2006 with a side plate of anchovies, as if they were somehow illicit). It turns out that anchovies didn’t feature in the original Caesar Salad recipe and the hint of anchovy came from the Lea and Perrin’s Worcestershire Sauce* which was part of the original dressing. But what Ruth (or her agent) has given us is much more of a classic side salad.

*If you have concerns about anchovies, you can always substitute Sheffield’s Henderson’s Relish for Worcestershire Sauce.

It cost me about £7.50 to get all the ingredients together for Ruth Roman’s variation on Caesar Salad (obviously some of the items like the mustard powder and wine vinegar can be used many times). Rather than buy a packet of croutons, I tried making some from a couple of slices of wholemeal bread. I made half the croutons in a healthy fashion on a baking tray in the oven, and the other half I fried in oil and salt. I’ll let you guess which tasted the best.

Most salad recipes will tell you how to mix up all the ingredients of the dressing beforehand – and a lot of Caesar Salad dressings even sidestep the eggs. By contrast, Ruth Roman’s recipe harks back to the original Aviator Salad and brings back the drama of the last minute preparation at the table. I thought that a salad would be less fraught than some of the other recipes I’d tried out, but as it turned out this still generated the frenzy of trying to get all the steps in the right order,

What it comes down to is coddling two eggs – boiling them for precisely one minute – and then – as Ruth doesn’t mention – running under cold water so you don’t burn your fingers! before breaking them over the Romaine lettuce. (For concerns about runny eggs, the British Lion Mark means the eggs have been laid by hens vaccinated against salmonella. although some unvaccinated eggs did slip through last year. ) You then “stir and toss vigorously” – the original Cardini recipe suggests “rolling, rather than tossing, to emulsify the eggs” but I didn’t know that at the time and guess my tossing was close enough to rolling to thoroughly coat the leaves. After that, the recipe suggests you sprinkle 4 tablespoons of grated parmesan intermittently with olive oil flavoured by a garlic clove. At the same time adding in “a touch of Worcestershire sauce, a small amount of wine vinegar, a pinch of dry mustard and the juice of half a lemon” (I admit I mixed these together beforehand and just tipped them in).

So, what was the verdict? Surprisingly close to a proper Caesar Salad. The fresh made croutons are definitely better than those out of a packet, and the dressing was a passable imitation of what you might get out of a bottle (“Where were the eggs?” was the comment I received, which I guess confirms that they emulsified convincingly). As for all the effort and tension, whether it was worth it to produce what is effectively a side salad is another question entirely. I guess that’s why we pay chefs to prepare our meals.

Previous Murder She Cooked try-outs’ – Tige Andrews’ – The Mod Squad and The Detectives – Riz Norma

Mark Rolston’s Red Eye Eggs Benedict

Richard Johnson – Four Time Chicken