Why hello there, my fellow Children of the Corn. This is Kitchen Catastrophes, where we slake the unholy hunger of He Who Walks Between The Rows with one fat guy making food and talking about it. Ours is an ever-peckish God, who really wants you to forget that time he motivated a bunch of kids to murder their parents for him. It was the 80’s, we all made mistakes. In any case, today, we’re going to investigate a surprising little salad option, its storied lineage, and, you know, eat it. If you want to skip parts one and two and go straight to the eating, you can get the recipe here, while the rest of us wander off into fertile fields of fiendish foliage. Let’s talk about Caesar Green Beans.
Names: How Obvious is Too Obvious?
Do I need to explain the concept of this dish to you, or is it’s name what Wittgenstein would dub a ostentative definition of itself: Because you know what Caesar Salad is, and what Green Beans are, you immediately understand what is implied by the conjoining of them. You’re not like, confused that we’ve found a Roman imperial Leader whose name is “Green Beans”, right?
Et tu, Frisée?
It’s something of a paradigm-shifting recipe, in the sense that if forces one to consider “Oh, yeah, I guess the important thing about a Caesar salad is just the dressing. I could make ANYTHING Caesar X.” Which is certainly true. Many of them would be BAD IDEAS (The world is unlikely to want second helpings of your Caesar Pancake, for instance. Caesar Ice Cream…COULD work in a fancy restaurant, but it’s on the EDGE.) but you could make them. Which is broadly true of a LOT of sauce-based dishes. You can make Buffalo ANYTHING if you’re willing to coat it in hot sauce and melted butter, for instance. You can rub Miso on basically anything to make “Miso Glazed/Roasted/Cured X”. Teriyaki X. Pesto X. So on and so forth. Though, it’s a frustratingly resilient paradigm as well, at least for me: Basically any time I run into one of these recipes, I’m always a little shocked, and have to re-learn the idea. “Oh, yeah, I guess that makes sense.”
And yes, maybe I AM compensating for the simple nature of today’s dish, on both a conceptual and technical level, by being overly academic, referencing Wittgenstein (a philosopher I did NOT have to study despite taking almost a dozen philosophy classes in College, for a sense of how niche he is) and paradigms. But, I mean, other than taking us on a trip to Tijuana, there’s really not much else to do in the history part of today’s post than pontificate about philosophy and mental frameworks.
distant mariachi music starts to swell
What was that? Yeah, Tijuana. That’s where Caesar Salad was invented. What? No, we’ve talked about this. Caesar Salad is NOT Roman. It has nothing to do with Julius, Augustus, or any of those guys. Well, I say “none of those guys”. It IS connected to Italy, but not in the way you think. Ugh, fine, we’ll cover THAT.
Caesar Cardini was an Italian immigrant to America, who trained as a chef in Canada, before moving to California to cook. (Dude had a lot of Cs in his biography) He started a restaurant in San Diego, and then immediately started one in Tijuana as well, because he figured it would do much better business. Because it could sell alcohol.
Yes, Caesar’s culinary enterprises started right as America entered Prohibition, and the incredibly close border between San Diego and Tijuana meant that many wealthy San Diegans would simply drive a couple miles to dine in Tijuana, where they could get hammered legally, and drive back (this was before drunk driving laws. Hell, this was barely after CARS.) to sleep in their homes in America.
This is a street on the US-Mexico Border in 1929. I added the yellow line so you can see that this street ENCOMPASSES the border.
Anyway, according to Caesar’s daughter, the salad was invented on a 4th of July weekend in 1924. The details are a little sketchy (Rosa Cardini wasn’t born until 1928, so she’s recounting what her parents told her. Other workers claim to have invented it, or that it was invented at a different time, but this is the most consistent story.) The weekend was particularly busy, and the restaurant was running low on several important dishes. The salad was invented as a big showy dish that would attract a lot of attention, but not cost a lot to make, and use ingredients that they had a lot of.
If you’re wondering what makes Caesar Salad “showy”, Cardini would make the salad and dressing AT the table. Grinding garlic and pepper, breaking and whisking eggs, grating parmesan, tossing it together. It was meant to look elaborate and fancy, so that people ordered IT, or were distracted watching him so they didn’t notice how long their meal was taking.
Interestingly, the original recipe did NOT use anchovies. The fishy flavor in it came from Worcestershire sauce. However, Caesar’s brother made his own variant of the sauce with anchovies, and over time, people combined the two sauces into one, and nowadays, it’s practically impossible to find an upscale Caesar Salad dressing that DOESN’T include anchovies.
Buncha high-falutin’ muckety mucks, fishy little bastards.
And while I’m sure it’d be fund to explore the history of green beans as a vegetable, and blow our minds by learning that there’s like, 12 different varieties of green beans, and it’s really kind of a blanket term we use for one type of plant podding, but I frankly don’t have time to lean into that, because I’ve DEFINTELY overbooked myself, and have to crank this out much faster than anticipated. SO let’s cut my philosophical jibber-jabber, and get straight to the main course: a salad.
How Many Times Can I Make the “Time to get Saucy” Joke Before it Becomes Overdone?
THIS IS NO TIME FOR PONDERING, TITLE JON. We have to make a Caesar Salad Dressing to toss our green beans in! Luckily, this whole ensemble takes maybe 10 minutes to throw together, once you’ve got a pot of water boiling. First, you get a big bowl, and assemble your dressing team.
It is surprisingly nerve-wracking setting down spoons of liquid to take pictures of them. Like, it’s the first time I’ve ever been forced to realize just how much a spoon RELIES on being held to be functional.
The recipe I’m using, courtesy of Cook’s Country, calls for lemon juice, Worchestershire, Dijon Mustard, and anchovy fillets. Unfortunately, and mysteriously, my household is COMPLETELY out of the slippery fishy bastard. I guess we’ll just have to use more Worchest-what’s that? We bought Anchovy PASTE? So we can…just squirt mashed fish out of a tube, rather than mashing it ourselves? My, what a…thoughtful culinary creation this is. I’ll treasure it. And its valiant saving of the meal.
I know I’m appetized.
Add some minced garlic, salt and pepper, and whisk the whole shebang to combine. Then, you gotta make an emulsion. Basically, if you stir this liquidy mess fast enough, and slowly add oil, what’ll happen is you’ll bludgeon the oil and water into mixing and hanging out. The best way to whisk, reliable sources have told me, is to use consistent lateral motions. Like you’re aggressively painting a relatively short length of wood (title of my sex tape, to quote Jake Peralta), You can turn the bowl, or switch the angle of your back-and-forth snapping, but you should be making a straight-line motion with your hand and wrist. Within a minute, your dressing should have…completely come together.
I’d normally joke how bad this looks, but actually, this is better than I anticipated.
At which point, you’ve just got to cook some green beans. Toss them into the water you already got boiling because I definitely said you needed to do that, don’t give me that lip, and let boil for 5-7 minutes. Dump them into a colander, and then onto a paper-towl (or real kitchen towel, if you’re fancy) lined baking sheet to dry and cool completely. Once your beans are cool beans, it’s time to get radical. Toss the beans into the bowl, along with some shaved parmesan.
Now THIS is looking like a mostly finished dish!
And then go to town tossing everything together. The original recipe also had croutons in the mixture, but for reasons I don’t fully understand, Mom hates croutons, so we excluded them from the recipe. Once it’s all mixed up, serve it with a beef-and-bacon pie you’ve already made and just haven’t talked about because it was connected with Game of Thrones and you got busy and now it’s too late.
Focus on the good, Jon. The beans are fine.
Personally, I think the lemon is a little high on the recipe. Maybe knock it down by a teaspoon or two to balance everything, but overall, it was a nice quick little side, and it’d be even quicker and easier if I just used like, premade salad dressing. Which you can totally do. But me, I have standards. By which I mean I’m too indecisive to commit to a WHOLE BOTTLE of salad dressing without trying it first, so mixing some up over like, 5 minutes, lets me feel accomplished, AND lets me change it up whenever I want.
If you want to help me continue buying tubes of mashed fish, either for salad dressing or for avant-garde, hideous-smelling art installations, consider supporting the site through Patreon. Otherwise, keep up with what we’re doing via our social media, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
THURSDAY: JON VISITS NEVADA, SINCE APPARENTLY HE HASN’T DONE A MEANDERING AMERICA’S MENUS SINCE LAST FUCKING JUNE! SERIOUSLY, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME?
MONDAY: JON UNVEILS A NEW KIND OF POST. ONE THAT’S A LITTLE EASIER TO SWALLOW, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. (WHICH YOU DON’T, SINCE I HAVEN’T EXPLAINED WHAT IT IS YET)
Welcome to the
Caesar Green Beans
1 ½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 anchovy fillets, minced to paste
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Beans and Toppings
1 ½ pounds green beans, trimmed
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, shaved with vegetable peeler
Croutons if desired
Put a pot of water on the stove to boil. Whisk together lemon juice, Worchestershire, garlic, mustard, as well as ½ tsp pepper and ¼ tsp salt. Once combined, continue whisking while slowly drizzling in oil to make an emulsion. Set dressing aside
When water is boiling, add green beans to the water along with 1-2 tsps of salt, and let boil for 5-7 minutes, until beans are tender. Remove to a colander, then a towel-lined baking sheet. Let dry and cool completely.
Toss the cooled beans with the dressing, croutons (if using) and half the parmesan to coat. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste, and top with remaining parmesan. Serve.