Our October show was Fancy Festival Food, and it’s just not a festival unless vendors are selling some unlikely food item on a stick. So I decided to make Ceasar Salad on a stick. The sheer silliness of a salad on a stick tickled me, but the real reason I made this, as with so many real reasons, came down to desire.
My desire was born at the Black Gold Festival. I love Black Gold–it’s a festival held in my small town of Hazard, Kentucky, to celebrate coal. I’ve always loved Black Gold, from the very first festival back in the early eighties, when the Dukes of Hazzard showed up and Daisy Duke got drunk and danced on the pool table at the after party until this year’s festival, which celebrated the centennial of the railroad coming to Hazard. I love the freaks and the carnies, and I love seeing people I haven’t seen in ages, and I love all of it. Especially the food.
I love the food at Black Gold–I love the very inauthentic gyros, and the freshly fried pork rinds, and the kettle corn popped right on the street, and the various and sundry questionable meat products on a stick. I love the funnel cakes–I LOVE the funnel cakes. (More on that in another post.) When I was younger, I’d eat everything in sight at Black Gold and stay up half the night drinking at parties or at one of the downtown bars and be right back for more the next day. But as I’ve gotten older, things have changed. I can’t stay up late, for one thing. Black Gold is more about letting my kids ride dangerous, rickety carnival rides than partying. And my Black Gold diet tends to cause gall bladder attacks.
This year, as I trolled the street looking for food, nothing really called out to me. So I asked myself this: “Self, what would you eat if you could have anything you wanted?” My self answered “Sushi”, like my self always does when I ask it that, and I reminded my self that this is Hazard and you can’t GET sushi here, and then my self said “Well, you said ANYTHING. And that’s what I want. But if you want to get all REALISTIC, I’d kind of like a salad.” But the closest thing on the street to that was a few strands of limp, sad iceberg lettuce and pallid chopped tomatoes on the gyro I’d eaten earlier that day.
I didn’t get the salad I desired that day at the festival. In fact, I made do with some kettle corn and went home and made myself a salad. Later, when Jonathan and I were talking about the show, I remembered that desire, and the Ceasar Salad on a Stick was born. I did it mostly as a joke for the show–why would anybody put salad on a stick??? But it actually turned out really pretty, and it was easy to eat, and I liked it. I’d buy it on the street at Black Gold next year. Hell, maybe I’ll SELL it on the street at Black Gold next year…
The trick to Ceasar Salad, whether it’s on a stick or laid out nicely on a plate, is, of course, the dressing. Someday I’ll buy a white waiter’s jacket and do this dramatically table-side, like they used to do in certain fancy restaurants, but for now, I just use my immersion blender and do it in a jar or a cup. Here’s the recipe:
- 1 egg, coddled
- the juice of one lemon
- four anchovy fillets
- four cloves of garlic
- about 1/3 cup olive oil or so
Like most of my recipes, this one is wide open to variation. Really, you’re just making an egg-enriched vinegarette. I like mine really heavy on the anchovy and garlic, so I use a lot of both. I also usually drizzle in some of the oil from the anchovy tin, just to boost things up. And some recipes call just for raw egg yolks, or for mayonaise. But I like to use a barely coddled whole egg.
Chop the garlic finely and add it to the lemon juice and anchovies. Have this ready before you coddle your egg. Coddle your egg by immersing it in into boiling water for about one minute–recipes say to do it longer, but I like mine barely cooked, and I get my eggs from Cluckingham Palace, so I know they’re nice and fresh. Or you can just roll it around on a hot grill, like I did on the show–we were grilling Jonathan’s Swarovski Krystle Burger anyway, and so the grill was hot, and it was just easier. Crack the egg onto the other ingredients and hit it with an immersion blender–or you could do this in a food processor or blender, or by hand, I guess, if you’re a gadget hating luddite or something. Add the olive oil in a drizzle until you have a nice emulsion. Taste it for salt, maybe add a little cayenne or aleppo pepper for heat, and you’re done.
On the show, I tried to remove the ribs of the romaine and sort of weave the lettuce onto the skewer. In my head, the lettuce formed a sort of serpentine, sensuous curve, with the other salad bits–cherry tomatoes, homemade grilled croutons, grilled chicken–all tucked into the curves of the lettuce. But things are so often much nicer in my head than they are in real life, and such was the case here.
The lettuce didn’t really cooperate, and it kept tearing, and it didn’t look like it did in the magical land which is the inside of my head. I managed to create a few pretty skewers, but when I tried a do-over a few nights later for a party at Jonathan’s, I just cut the lettuce into same sized sqarish shapes, and left some of the ribs there, which made it much easier to skewer. I brushed the whole shebang generously with the dressing and sprinkled grated parmesan over it. For presentation, I covered a block of floral foam in brown craft paper and stuck the skewers in. Very pretty, and a nice accompaniment to Jonathan’s sliders.
Things are changing in America. We’re all becoming more aware of the way we eat. Maybe, just maybe, instead of thinking of new things to dip in batter and fry (battered fried pizza? REALLY?), vendors will start thinking of things to serve that are fun to eat AND good for you. I’d be down with that change. Just don’t stop serving the Chili in a Bag, and don’t clean up the carnies.
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