Everyone loves caesar salads, right? That’s why they’re a presumed legal requirement on every restaurant menu. But caesar salads can be so BORING. There are just so many bad ones out there that I can’t help but give it a little side-eye when I come across one. Will it be served on wilted romaine? Will it be so gloppy with dressing that even the croutons have lost their crunch? Even worse…will they use store-bought croutons? I just can’t be taking these kinds of risks out here.
I love to make them at home, however, because the homemade dressing is superior to most things you’ll find out there. Balancing the anchovy, mustard and lemon juice is easy to get the hang of, and it comes together quickly in a blender. It’s also very make-in-advance-able and there aren’t many more-desirable things you can be in my house, I don’t mind telling you.
This recipe twists up a classic and gives it new life. It keeps the anchovy and dijon elements that make the dressing recognizable, but adds cumin, hot sauce and worcestershire to give it spice and depth. For the salad itself, we’re keeping the romaine but swapping the parmesan for cotija* and the croutons are being ousted by crushed blue corn chips. Fresh tomatoes and diced pepper will also be joining us, as they’re coming in so lovely this time of year. Oh, and we’ll be throwing a perfectly seared sirloin steak on top. Are your eyes watering? No, those are mine? Oh. It’s probably just the hot sauce. Moving on.
This is one of those summer all-stars for me because the only heat involves firing up the grill outside while you prep the cold ingredients inside. No oven, no burners. I think we all know it’s just too hot for that noise, I don’t think I’m alone in this. And let’s face it — there’s something enticing about a salad you have to serve with a steak knife. It let’s people know you mean business.
*Cotija is a Mexican cow’s milk cheese that is similar to feta. It’s available in more and more supermarkets these days and Latin grocery stores. Feel free to substitute feta if you can’t find it.
Southwest Steak Caesar Salads
Adapted, loosely, from Canyon Cafe, Sam’s Cafe and Desert Fire
For the dressing:
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
½ teaspoon anchovy paste
¼ teaspoon worcestershire
¾ teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hot sauce (I used Frank’s Red Hot)
¼ cup grapeseed oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
For the steak:
3 sirloin steaks, about 8 oz each
2 teaspoons grapeseed oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
For the salad:
3 large or 4 small heads of romaine lettuce; washed, dried and chopped
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 orange or yellow bell pepper, diced
¾ cup blue corn tortilla chips, crushed, not too fine
¼ cup cotija cheese crumbles
For the dressing:
In a blender, combine all dressing ingredients except the oil. Blend on medium speed to combine. With motor still running, slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil until dressing is emulsified. Taste for seasoning, adjust as necessary. Set aside.
For the steaks:
At least 20 minutes before grilling, bring steaks to room temperature and sprinkle with the salt.
Preheat a gas grill or a cast iron grill pan over medium high heat until the grill is very hot. Drizzle the steaks with a little oil and gently place them on the grill. Grill to desired doneness — about 135°F for medium rare, 140°F for medium and 150°F for medium well; turning only once (twice if you’re fancy and going for a cross-hatch). Let rest at least 10 minutes before slicing.
In a large bowl, combine chopped romaine, peppers, tomatoes, corn chips and cotija. Add dressing and toss gently until the salad is nicely dressed. You may have some dressing left over. After the steaks have rested, slice each one rather thinly against the grain and fan out the slices on top of the salads.
Serves 4 as a main course