The Original Caesar Salad: Hecho en Tijuana

caesar salad recipe tijuana

Legend has it that the original Caesar salad was first created in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico. And since in my family, we’re all about leyendas (think Llorona and Cucuy!), when my sister Vanessa and I heard this origin story nearly 10 years ago, we embarked on a self-guided (and self-funded) research trip across the U.S.-Mexico border. Luckily for us, I lived a stone’s throw away from the restaurant where this classic salad was believed to have first graced the palates of both Mexicans and tourists alike.

original caesar salad recipe

If you ever visit Caesar’s restaurant in Hotel Caesars, you’ll find that the Caesar salad is served with whole romaine lettuce leaves and sliced crispy bread.

Where was the Caesar salad first made?
The salad’s history, original creator, and ingredients are the subject of some debate, although most historians believe that it was first created in the early 1900s at Caesar’s restaurant at the Hotel Caesars in Tijuana, Mexico by either Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini or his brother, Livio Santini.

The story that’s been told is that Cardini was low on provisions at his restaurant and in order to satiate the appetite of some hungry friends, he threw together what he had on hand and served them his concoction. The creation has lived on ever since and is now made tableside, much like you would see when guacamole is prepared fresh at restaurants. So is Caesar salad Italian or Mexican? You decide. All I know is that it was created by an Italian immigrant living in Mexico, and nearly a century later, it’s one of the most famous salads in the U.S.

“Like most origin stories, this one is difficult to prove. The incredible combination of ingredients that goes into a Caesar salad may have come together in different variations, in Tijuana or elsewhere. Regardless, the dish grew famous in Tijuana.” – Alison Spiegel

We’ve all seen variations of the Caesar salad made with different ingredients and my goal with this recipe is to create the flavors I remember from that warm summer day when my sister and I crossed into Tijuana and paired our salad with bone marrow served on sopes.

Trust me, the anchovies and egg yolk are what make this Caesar salad dressing shine. Even people who claim to despise one or both of these ingredients end up loving this recipe.

What is classic Caesar salad made of, you ask?
The original Caesar salad isn’t topped with anything like the creamy white salad dressing that comes from the store, nor is it served with bagged croutons. You might even be surprised to learn that (yellow) lemons, which are oftentimes served with Caesar salads, are nowhere to be found in Mexican recipes. Here’s the list of ingredients that go into the original Caesar salad, made in Tijuana:

Romaine lettuce leaves
Anchovies
Fresh garlic
Dijon mustard
Worcestershire sauce
Lime (not lemon) juice, freshly squeezed
Egg yolk
Olive oil
Parmesan cheese
Baked baguette slices
Ground pepper

homemade caesar dressing tijuanaThe most delicious recipes oftentimes require the simplest of ingredients.

How do you make a Ceasar salad from scratch?
The reason I love this salad is because of its simplicity and while the ingredients required to make it are pretty straightforward, no single flavor should stand out. Because this recipe calls for a raw egg yolk, which helps emulsify the dressing and gives it a rich flavor, it’s important to use the highest quality eggs; preferably from free range hens that spend their days on pasture. Using anchovies, Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, fresh lime (not a lemon!) juice, olive oil, and a few other ingredients, you can prepare the best homemade Caesar salad this side of the border.

It’s quite an experience to see the elegantly dressed servers prepare a Caesar salad tableside in Tijuana and after making it at home, I realized the importance of the huge wooden bowl they use. First, it serves as the mixing bowl where all of the ingredients are minced, chopped, and mixed, before tossing in the lettuce leaves to coat them with the dressing.

I tried drizzling the salad dressing over the lettuce and it just doesn’t work. The large bowl, with the salad dressing already in it, is essential in order to properly coat each leaf. If you’re like me and don’t have an enormous wooden bowl, you can make the dressing in a regular bowl, and then add it to the largest container or bowl that you have when it’s time to dress your lettuce.

To make this salad more user-friendly, I thought it would be helpful to note that instead of using a large wooden bowl and two wooden spatulas to mix ingredients and make the dressing, I used a glass bowl and whisk, and a large rectangular container to toss the leaves and coat them.

original caesar salad recipe tijuana


ORIGINAL CAESAR SALAD RECIPE

PREP TIME: 10 minutes     COOK TIME: 0 minutes     SERVES: 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS
3 heads of romaine lettuce, about 30 leaves
1 2-ounce can anchovies in olive oil or 2 tablespoons anchovy paste
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (whole grain, coarse ground, or creamy will work)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice, from about 2-3 limes
1 Nellie’s Free Range Egg, yolk only (see notes)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese plus more for garnishing

GARNISHES
Black pepper, freshly ground
Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
Baguette, sliced and rubbed with garlic and baked until crisp, about 10 minutes

TOOLS, SUPPLIES, AND EQUIPMENT
Knife and cutting board or molcajete (mortar and pestle)
Medium bowl (glass, wooden, or plastic will work)
Whisk
Large bowl or container big enough to mix whole romaine lettuce leaves
Tongs
Serving platter

PREPARATION INSTRUCTIONS
Clean the romaine lettuce leaves and keep them crisp in the refrigerator while you prepare the salad dressing.

If using whole anchovies, reserve the olive oil and mince the anchovies or using a molcajete, grind them with the olive oil until they form a thick paste. Add anchovies to a medium bowl and whisk together with garlic, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce, lime juice, and egg yolk.

Slowly add a steady stream of olive oil while continuing to whisk ingredients, until everything is well blended.

Transfer dressing into a larger bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons of grated parmesan cheese. Add whole romaine lettuce leaves to the bowl and using tongs, gently toss them in the dressing until each leaf is well-coated.

TO SERVE
Serve on a platter and top with freshly ground black pepper, parmesan cheese, and crispy baguettes.

A NOTE FROM NELLIE’S FREE RANGE EGGS
Nellie’s Free Range Eggs are not pasteurized, so we cannot recommend that they be eaten raw. To safely pasteurize your eggs at home simply place the eggs in a pot of water and heat on the stovetop until the water reaches 140F. Heat the eggs submerged in water at 140F, and no higher than 142F, for 3 minutes before removing from the hot water and rinsing with cold water.


Many thanks to Nellie’s Free Range Eggs for sponsoring this post. As always, the recipe and opinions shared about these products are my own.

To view the full lineup of Nellie’s Free Range products, egg recipes, or to view a store locator, visit nelliesfreerange.com.

Photography + Styling: Cacey McReavy

Tags:

Categories: Featured Recipes, Main Dishes: Eggs, Main Dishes: Vegetarian

2 Comments on “The Original Caesar Salad: Hecho en Tijuana”

  1. Myrna
    September 13, 2022 at 8:23 pm #

    We Love Hotel Caesars in Tijuana, we see it when we do visit The New Tijuana, alot has changed within years , we miss old Tijuana though.🥰😇

  2. September 13, 2022 at 9:35 pm #

    I agree. We used to go as children back in the 80s and it’s so different now. Hotel Caesars is a fun spot, especially given its history!

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