Caesar Salad

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Caesar Salad is a spectacular classic–it’s stacked high with romaine lettuce, croutons, and plenty of Parmesan cheese! This salad is an explosion of flavor combining saltiness with lemony-garlic undertones and a subtle smokiness. The dressing is luxuriously creamy with a pleasant cheesiness and a hit of tanginess to balance it all out.

While this salad makes a great side dish, it can be a filling meal on its own — we’ll share how to add bacon, chicken, and/or eggs to add some protein and satiety.

Overhead image of the Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad

Caesar Salad pairs amazingly well with so many dishes — it’s a go-to side dish at my home — one we’ll usually have every couple of weeks. We love pairing it with hearty meat-filled dishes like this One-Pot Spaghetti, these miniature Turkey Meatloaves, or this Ground Beef Stroganoff. When it’s not being served as a side dish though, I’ll happily eat a Caesar Salad as a main course — with some chicken, bacon, and/or eggs — yum!

Over the years I’ve tweaked and adjusted my Caesar salad dressing until I claim it as the best I’ve ever had! It has a great cheesy saltiness from the Parmesan, a briny umami flavor from the Worcestershire and anchovies, and the perfect hit of tang from the lemon juice. The dressing is robustly rounded out with garlic and dijon mustard.

Pair this show-stopping dressing with crisp romaine lettuce, the best crunchy garlic croutons, and shaved Parmesan — no wonder this salad is such a hit whenever I serve it!

Process shots--Making homemade croutons by adding oil to dried bread cubes; add melted butter and seasonings.

What’s Caesar salad made of?

Caesar salads can vary a good amount from place to place and depending on how you like them. It’s said that the original recipe had six simple components — lettuce, egg, olive oil, croutons, Parmesan cheese, and Worcestershire sauce. This recipe stays pretty true to a classic Caesar salad you’d get at most restaurants; here’s what we add as well as some ingredient tips:

  1. Romaine lettuce: The fresher and crisper the lettuce, the better the salad will taste!
  2. Croutons: We are obsessed with homemade croutons and I promise they are so simple to make (more on this later)! That said, store-bought croutons work great too!
  3. Parmesan: Either shaved or finely grated on top — depending on which you prefer texturally, but please use fresh–not canned–Parm. 
  4. Caesar salad dressing: We’ll break down the dressing ingredients below!
  5. Optional additions: beyond the first four components of this salad, these are not necessary, but great additions if you’re looking to make this salad more of a main course: eggs, bacon, chicken.

QUICK TIP

To get the larger shavings of Parmesan, all you need is a block of Parmesan cheese and a potato peeler — you can grate the shavings right into the salad! To get a finer texture and sprinkling of cheese, use a microplane to grate the block of Parmesan.

Image of the croutons being baked

Caesar salad dressing

An authentic Caesar Dressing is thickened with raw eggs, but I prefer using a good mayonnaise base instead to avoid 

  • Good quality mayo. This dressing relies on a tasty whole-egg mayo like Hellman’s/Best Foods®. (Not sponsored, just a fan!)
  • Garlic. This adds a nice kick to the dressing and it’s an ingredient you can play around a bit with. If you like an especially garlicky dressing, feel free to add more.
  • Freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If you buy store-bought already grated Parmesan, it’s going to be a lot denser than freshly grated, so start with less. While regular Parmesan works great, if you’re looking for an elevated flavor use imported Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy. You can always tell if it’s authentic by looking at the rind, which is embossed with the name over and over. If the cheese is already grated, it should be labeled “Parmigiano-Reggiano,” not “Parmesan.”
  • Dijon mustard. We love Grey Poupon® Dijon best. Make sure to use Dijon, not yellow mustard. 
  • Olive oil. The better the olive oil used, the better the flavor of the dressing will be. We recommend extra virgin olive oil for this recipe.
  • Lemons. Bottled lemon juice doesn’t pack the same flavor as fresh, and lemon is one of the main flavors here. The dressing also benefits from lemon zest, which is another reason to use fresh lemon.
  • Anchovy paste. To get that sought-after umami flavor, anchovy filets or paste are the answer! I find paste is easiest here and yields an imperceptible flavor difference. If you skip anchovies all together, you’ll likely find the flavor lacking and will want to make up for the omission with a good amount of added salt! 
  • Salt and pepper. I love a good black-pepper kick in Caesar salad dressing, so the more pepper the better! That said, it’s very easy to scale the amount of pepper to personal preference — you can always add more cracked pepper atop your own salad. As far as salt goes, I like to add very slowly and to taste depending on how salty the anchovy paste and cheese are, you may not even want any additional salt added in.

QUICK TIP

Anchovy paste comes in a toothpaste-like tube that you’ll find usually in the condiments aisle, canned fish aisle, or next to the tubes of tomato paste at the grocery store. What’s in it? Anchovies, salt, and olive oil that have been ground into a thick, greyish paste. Once opened, it does need to be refrigerated. As far as anchovy filets go, look for the dark brown fillets packed in oil either in a can or jar on the canned fish aisle (not the fillets sold at delis for antipasto platters).

Process shots--Making the Caesar salad dressing in the food processor

Let’s Chat Croutons

While packaged croutons work great here, if you’re looking for an amazing homemade crouton recipe, we’re sharing it here! Nothing can beat homemade croutons in a Caesar Salad and they’re surprisingly easy to make! Below are a few tips:

  • Bread. I’ve found the croutons are as tasty as the bread is. We’ve tried homemade croutons with regular sandwich bread, artisan loaves of bread, and baguettes — hands down, the favorite is a crusty artisan style baguette (sourdough is a personal favorite). You can typically find these baguettes in the bakery section of the grocery store. 
  • Use a combination of butter and oil. These croutons are tossed in a combination of butter and olive oil. The oil will caramelize the bread cubes (make them crispy!), while the butter enhances the flavor.
  • Season to preference. It’s hard to say exactly how much salt to add since each bread is different and will require different amounts of salt. (Plus, there are personal preferences for levels of saltiness!) I recommend tasting a few croutons and adjusting salt as you go.
  • Allow time for croutons to harden. After the croutons have baked and slightly browned, they still need some time to finish firming up; don’t be concerned if they aren’t as crunchy as you’d like right out of the oven. As they cool, they’ll become crispier.

Overhead image of all the salad toppings being added and tossed with the Caesar dressing

VARIATIONS

Caesar Salad Variation ideas

  • Add some heat by sprinkling some red pepper flakes on top.
  • For a lower-calorie Caesar salad, use a store-bought lite Caesar salad dressing or try the avocado-based dressing on this Kale Avocado Salad.
  • While not authentic at all, my family loves halved cherry tomatoes in this salad!
  • Add chicken: Either leftover grilled chicken or grab a rotisserie chicken from the store work well. (We like lemon pepper seasoned chicken best.)
    • Or, cook about 3/4 pound chicken from scratch. Pat a skinless, boneless chicken breast dry with a paper towel or napkin. Cut the chicken in half horizontally to get two equal-sized pieces. Pound if needed to get chicken to even thickness. Drizzle with olive oil — about 1/2 teaspoon per side per piece of chicken. Sprinkle each side evenly with salt, pepper, and lemon pepper. I add about 1/4 teaspoon per side of each, but add to personal preference. Cook the chicken on a grill or in a pan  (in bacon grease or olive oil & butter) for about 3-5 minutes per side over medium-high heat or until juices run clear. When the chicken is done, remove and tent it with foil. Let cool 5-10 minutes before very thinly slicing it and adding to the salad.
  • Bacon: We love thick-sliced bacon added into the salad– about 3-4 slices. Coarsely chop the bacon then add to a large skillet (don’t add oil/butter). Turn to medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined plate. Once cooled, add to salad.
  • Add eggs: Cook eggs to personal preference, then peel and halve them for the salad. To do this: Place them in a small pot and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. As soon as the water is simmering, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook for 3-4 minutes for a soft center, 4-5 for firmer yolks and 6-8 minutes for a hard-boiled egg. Remove the eggs, run under cold water and then submerge in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. After that, peel, cut, and add to salad.

[quicktip] Why is it called a Caesar Salad? It’s not named in honor of Julius Caesar. Rather, it’s named for restaurateur Caesar Cardini, who invented the salad in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. He called it The Aviator Salad, but it soon became referred to as “Caesar’s Salad.” [/quicktip]

Caesar Salad FAQs

1What can you replace anchovies with in Caesar salad dressing?

The best substitutes are Worcestershire sauce, shrimp paste, capers, soy sauce, and miso.

If you use an anchovy fillet instead of anchovy paste, 1/2 teaspoon paste equals 1 fillet. You may also need to slightly adjust for salt and liquid amounts.

2Why is a Caesar salad called a Caesar salad?

Caesar salad is said to have been created in Tijuana, Mexico by an Italian chef Caesar Cardini in 1924. The original Caesar Salad used a dressing that included raw eggs.

3Why are there anchovies in Caesar dressing?

The anchovies provide a depth of flavor that is hard to replicate with anything else. They do not make the dressing taste fishy!

4How many anchovies are in a teaspoon of anchovy paste?

1 anchovy fillet = 1/2 teaspoon paste

5How do restaurants keep lettuce crisp?

Lettuce needs moisture and a good amount of airflow to keep crisp.

Most restaurants store their lettuce is perforated bins that allow for that circulation while being stored in the fridge.

Make sure to wash lettuce in cool, not warm or hot water and thoroughly dry to maintain optimal crispness.

6Why is Caesar salad unhealthy?

Although this is a salad, Caesar salad is not one of the most nutritious salads. The creamy dressing has a high amount of fat and sodium.

The cheese and croutons are also not the most nutritious salad options.

That said, in moderation and as part of a balanced meal, a Caesar salad is a great dish to enjoy!

Up close overhead image of the Caesar Salad

STORAGE

Caesar Salad Storage

This salad doesn’t sit very well with the dressing and croutons mixed into it. If you aren’t planning to eat the entire salad at one sitting, toss and add dressing and croutons only to the lettuce you’ll be eating at this time. Caesar Salad dressing can be made in advance and will stay fresh for 3-6 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Be sure to thoroughly mix the dressing again before using it.

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Caesar Salad

5 from 1 vote
Caesar Salad is a wonderful classic-- salad stacked high with romaine lettuce, croutons, and plenty of Parmesan cheese! This salad is an explosion of flavor combining saltiness with lemony-garlic undertones and a subtle smokiness. The dressing is luxuriously creamy with a pleasant cheesiness and a hit of tanginess to balance it all out.
Print Recipe

Caesar Salad

5 from 1 vote
Caesar Salad is a wonderful classic-- salad stacked high with romaine lettuce, croutons, and plenty of Parmesan cheese! This salad is an explosion of flavor combining saltiness with lemony-garlic undertones and a subtle smokiness. The dressing is luxuriously creamy with a pleasant cheesiness and a hit of tanginess to balance it all out.
Course Main Course, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Healthy
Keyword caesar salad
Prep Time 30 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Calories 437kcal
Cost $6.72

Ingredients

Caesar Salad

  • 2 cups croutons (See Note 1 for homemade option!)
  • 2 heads (~8 cups) romaine lettuce, coarsely chopped (Note 2)
  • Parmesan cheese Freshly grated OR shaved

Dressing

  • 1/2 cup (100g) mayonnaise (I recommend Best Foods)
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste Note 3
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic (~1 clove)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (14g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese Note 4
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

Optional Extras

  • 3/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breast cooked and sliced or chopped
  • 3-4 slices thick-cut bacon cooked and chopped
  • 2-4 large eggs hard boiled

Instructions

  • CROUTONS: If making homemade croutons, start here! Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and adjust the rack to the center position. Cut baguette into 1-inch slices and then into 1/2-inch cubes. Place on a large lined sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, melted butter, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt and pepper to taste (I add 1/8 teaspoon each). Toss to combine and bake until crisp and firm but not overly browned, about 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through baking time. Remove from oven and let fully cool. (They will continue to firm up as they cool.) Taste and adjust, adding more salt if desired.
  • DRESSING: Add all the dressing ingredients to a blender jar. Process until smooth. Taste, adjust any flavors to personal preference and season to taste with salt. (I typically add 1/8 teaspoon salt, depending on how salty the cheese is.) If you'd like the dressing slightly thinner, add a touch more lemon juice or olive oil, noting that it will thin out a bit when tossed with lettuce. Place dressing (covered) in the fridge to chill and for flavors to meld and intensify, about 15-20 minutes if time allows.
  • OPTIONAL EXTRAS: If adding chicken, bacon, or eggs, see Note 5.
  • ASSEMBLY: Add washed and dried chopped lettuce to a large bowl. Drizzle on dressing to personal preference (you may not want it all) and use tongs to toss well. Taste and add more dressing if desired. Top with crisp cooled croutons, any of the optional extras, and lots of Parmesan cheese (to taste preference). Serve immediately.
  • STORAGE: This salad doesn’t sit very well with the dressing and croutons mixed into it. If you aren’t planning to eat the entire salad at one sitting, toss and add dressing and croutons only to the lettuce you’ll be eating at this time. Caesar Salad dressing can be made in advance and will stay fresh for 3-6 days in an airtight container in the fridge. Be sure to thoroughly mix the dressing again before using.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Croutons: To make homemade croutons, you'll need 4 cups cubed sourdough or French baguette (artisan-style baguette is our favorite!), 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste.  (This recipe will create more than you'll likely want on the salad, but better to have more than not enough!)
Note 2: Lettuce: Chop, wash, and thoroughly dry the romaine lettuce before tossing with the dressing. If the lettuce is still at all wet from being washed, it will water down the dressing and the salad isn't as pleasant. If time permits, chill the washed (and dried) lettuce and Caesar salad dressing and keep refrigerated until you're ready to assemble.
Note 3: Anchovy paste: Anchovy paste comes in a toothpaste-like tube that you'll find usually in the condiments aisle, canned fish aisle, or next to the tubes of tomato paste at the grocery store. What's in it? Anchovies, salt, and olive oil that have been ground into a thick, greyish paste. Once opened, it does need to be refrigerated. If you omit the anchovy paste, the dressing will lack a depth of flavor and saltiness -- you'll want to add quite a bit of salt to make up for it.
Note 4: If you buy store-bought grated Parmesan, it's going to be a lot denser than freshly grated, so start with 3 tablespoons and add more from there. 
Note 5: Optional additions listed below:
  • Add chicken: either leftover grilled chicken or rotisserie chicken from the store (We like lemon-pepper-seasoned chicken best). Or cook about 3/4th pound chicken breasts. (Pat chicken breast dry with a paper towel or napkin. Cut the chicken in half horizontally to get two equal-sized pieces. Pound if needed to get chicken to even thickness. Drizzle with olive oil -- about 1/2 teaspoon per side per piece of chicken. Sprinkle each side evenly with salt, pepper, and lemon pepper. I add about 1/4 teaspoon per side of each, but add to personal preference. Cook the chicken on a grill or in a pan (in bacon grease or olive oil & butter) for about 3-5 minutes per side over medium high heat or until juices run clear. When the chicken is done, remove and tent it with foil. Let cool 5-10 minutes before very thinly slicing it and adding to the salad.
  • Add bacon: We love thick-sliced bacon added into the salad-- about 3-4 slices. Coarsely chop the bacon then add to a large skillet (don't add oil/butter). Turn to medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper-towel-lined plate. Once cooled, add to salad.
  • Add eggs: Cook eggs to personal preference, then peel and halve them for the salad. To do this, place them in a small pot and cover with water. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. As soon as the water is boiling, turn heat down to a gentle simmer. Cook for 3-4 minutes for a soft center, 4-5 for firmer yolks and 6-8 minutes for a hard-boiled egg. Remove the eggs, run under cold water and then submerge in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. After that, peel, cut, and add to salad.
Nutrition information does not include optional add-ins.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 437kcal | Carbohydrates: 13g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 37g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 14g | Monounsaturated Fat: 13g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 32mg | Sodium: 786mg | Potassium: 78mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 280IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 343mg | Iron: 1mg

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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