Caesar salad turns 100 today. This Windsor chef says he'll eat it until the day he dies

Chef Michael Jimmerfield absolutely loves caesar salad —  the legendary medley of romaine lettuce, croutons and other key ingredients.

The dish, invented by Italian immigrant Caesar Cardini on July 4, 1924, at his restaurant, Caesar's Place, in Tijuana, Mexico, turns 100 today.

Jimmerfield, also a professor of culinary management at Saint Clair College in Windsor, Ont., believes caesar salad is here to stay.

"It's a staple, but it's one of my favourites as well," Jimmerfield told CBC Windsor Morning.

"I sure hope it's around for the next 100 years. I'm going to be eating it until the day I die, that's for sure."

Chef Michael Jimmerfield
Chef Michael Jimmerfield of Windsor, Ont., believes caesar salad is here to stay. (CBC)

It was a steamy night, and Cardini was struggling to feed an influx of Californians who had crossed the border to escape Prohibition.

In the middle of the dining room, Cardini tossed whole Romaine leaves with ingredients he had on hand, including garlic-flavoured oil, Worcestershire sauce, lemons, eggs and Parmesan cheese. A star was born.

Jimmerfield believes garlic is mostly responsible for keeping caesar salad on the menus for 100 years.

In fact, he said, he's found a lot of the modern incarnations "not garlicky enough … good fresh garlic is kind of the key."

Jimmerfield said while some people add bacon bits, they "really shouldn't" be included and "don't belong" in caesar salad.

Another common mistake people make in creating their own Caesar salad is the dressing, according to Jimmerfield.

"Right now, almost every Caesar salad that you get [has] lots of really thick creamy dressing," Jimmerfield said.

"While it should still be rich and a little bit creamy, that's not necessarily the classic or authentic fashion. That emulsification of lemon juice or vinegar with the olive oil, the more fat you put in, the more olive oil you put in, the thicker your dressing is going to get. And authentically and classically, It should be not runny, but a little bit fluid-liquid, not super thick."

Jimmerfield said "trying to cut a few cents on the Parmesan quality is a mistake."

Took a few years to hit mainstream

Unlike some other menu items from the early 20th century — think creamed liver loaf or aspic — caesar salad remains a perennial favourite.

Around 35 per cent of U.S. restaurants have Caesar salad on their menus, according to Technomic, a restaurant consulting firm. Nearly 43 million bottles of caesar salad dressing — or $150 million worth — have been sold in the U.S. over the past year, according to Nielsen IQ.

Beth Forrest, a professor of liberal arts and applied food studies at the Culinary Institute of America, said it took a few years for caesar salad to hit the mainstream. A recipe for it didn't make The Joy of Cooking, one of the most popular American cookbooks, until the 1951 edition. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, caesar salad was often prepared tableside, giving it an air of spectacle and sophistication, Forrest said.

Caesar salad
A typical caesar salad is made of romaine lettuce, garlic-flavoured oil, eggs and Parmesan cheese, among other ingredients. (Sonya Varma/CBC)

Forrest said caesar salad is ideal for the Western palate because it contains our two preferred textures: crispy and creamy. The egg yolks and Parmesan cheese are also high in glutamate acids, which give the salad the rich, salty taste known as umami.

"It satisfies us in many hedonistic ways, while we can still feel virtuous. It is, after all, a salad."

Caesar's many variations have also given it staying power, experts say.

At Beatrix, a chain of five restaurants in Chicago that makes healthier versions of comfort foods, chef and partner Andrew Ashmore spreads a spoonful of yogurt-based dressing at the bottom of the salad bowl and mixes it with capers, parsley, lemon vinaigrette and champagne vinegar before adding little gem lettuce, baby arugula, bread crumbs and a generous shaving of Grada Padano cheese.

"It's our number one-selling salad and it has been since we opened 11 years ago," Ashmore said. "I couldn't try to take it off the menu if I wanted to."