I’ve been trying to eat slightly lighter this week after all those restaurant meals I had last weekend. My standard dinner salad is just baby greens, artichoke hearts, feta, and sun-dried tomatoes (with the oil adhered to them as the dressing), but I decided to mix it up with this more indulgent Thomas Keller recipe from The French Laundry Cookbook; the recipe can be found at the end of this linked article (ignore its title).
It’s “Parmigiano-Reggiano Custard with Romaine Lettuce, Anchovy Dressing, and Parmesan Crisps.” More concisely: “fancy Caesar Salad. And of course, I started at about 3pm.
It’s actually not a very hard recipe. It just has a lot of components: the custard, the dressing, the croutons, the cheese crisps, and the lettuce. The custard needs 45 minutes to steep initially, 30 minutes to bake, and then 2 hrs to chill. The instructions for the dressing offhandedly mention that the anchovies should be soaked in milk for 30 mins, and then you blend it all, and chill for 2 hrs. Oh, and there’s a balsamic glaze that takes 2 to 3 hrs to reduce, but I didn’t make it because I don’t like that too much and there’s already balsamic in the dressing. The croutons, cheese crisps, and lettuce are ready in a snap, though.
I’ve found that with a lot of seemingly difficult recipes, there’s rather little work; it’s mostly just waiting for something to heat, soak, mix, set, or chill. I worked on other things between making the custard and the dressing and actually eating. It just helped that I happened to be home at 3pm. But, all of the components can be held for more than one day, so when I make this the next night from leftover components, it’ll take all of 5 minutes.
I made this as a big dinner salad with torn leaves instead of chiffonade leaves, but it’s meant to be more like a cheese course. The picture in The French Laundry Cookbook shows the whole thing as being as wide as a slice of baguette and a couple inches tall with chiffonade of romaine and a dot of reduced balsamic on the side.
So, I guess mine is more like a Semi-Fancy Caesar Salad:
I was a bit torn on how to plate it. I wanted the custard flat, but not as a well in the middle, so it’s just on the side; cuz really, it’s just a dinner at home. I also toasted the croutons right before eating so that they’d be warm.
After I made it, I understood why the title emphasized the parmigiano-reggiano — it is the star of the dish. The custard was the essence of the cheese’s flavor, and mine turned out more towards a goat cheese texture than flan, which I prefer for this. Combined with the parmesan crisp, which of course is the same cheese in different form, it was even more pungent and intricate. The dressing, however, is very, er, subtle; maybe I need to add more salt and pepper to it; or should have subbed red wine vinegar for balsamic, or added worcestershire sauce, or subbed lemon juice for all the vinegar. I might even like it more with the Bouchon House Vinaigrette, described in this post, and so forget about conforming to the Caesar formula.
But I would never mess with the custard.