Food & Drink | September 13, 2022 6:25 am

Try This Elevated Caesar Salad Recipe From Two NYC Chefs

Bobby Little and Chad Urban at Chez Nick use little gem lettuces to create a crisp salad that's big on flavor — and a sneaky comfort food

A Caesar salad made with little gem lettuce.
Chez Nick's caesar salad has earned its place on the restaurant's menu.
Chez Nick

Though basic logic might indicate the Caesar salad traces its leafy roots back to Europe where a well-known general became dictator of Rome in 49 BC, the dish actually hails from the streets of Tijuana, Mexico.

Invented in 1924 by Italian immigrant restaurateur Caesar Cardini when he haphazardly tossed lettuce, garlic and pieces of bread into a bowl for some hungry friends, the Caesar salad evolved into a dish that was prepared tableside and became popular with Americans who ventured south of the border to drink and dine in Mexico during Prohibition.

Originally made with romaine lettuce, freshly grated Parmesan and coddled eggs, Cardini’s Caesar did not contain anchovies and he “was adamant in insisting that the salad be subtly flavored,” according to the Dictionary of American Food and Drink. (And these days can even be eaten in a wrap.)

At Chez Nick on the Upper East Side of New York City, they developed an elevated Caesar salad recipe that contains not-so-subtle flavor provided by pickled red onions, Italian gremolata breadcrumbs and Spanish boquerones (white anchovies). Created by chef-partners Bobby Little and Chad Urban, Chez Nick’s Caesar also differs from the original when it comes to the greens as Cardini’s romaine is swapped out for little gem lettuce that’s grown at an employee-operated farm down in the Carolinas and soaked in ice water to maximize crispiness.

“Romaine lettuce is nice and crunchy, but it doesn’t really have any flavor and it’s a little watery which kind of dilutes whatever flavor you’re putting in the salad. Little gem lettuce almost has its own little flavor profile going on,” Urban tells InsideHook. “It’s a really tight head of lettuce. The leaves are really crisp and juicy, especially the way we clean them. You get a nice textural crunch from the lettuce, but it’s also succulent and juicy as well.”

Caesar salad is a sneaky comfort food that's full of flavor.
Chez Nick’s Caesar is full of flavor, crisp lettuces and crunchy gremolata.
Chez Nick

Added to the menu during the pandemic, Chez Nick’s Caesar is emblematic of Little and Urban’s desire to take classic or nostalgic dishes and then elevate them with quality ingredients and inspired tweaks without interfering too much with the original formula.

“We wanted to put our own little spin on something people know they love and want to have. I would say it probably took five or six different attempts until we were happy with it,” Urban says. “It’s been on the menu for a year now and we really weren’t expecting it to stay on as long as it has. We were just doing it as a comfort item to help people get through the pandemic because it’s very familiar and nostalgic. Once we put it on, it really kind of took off.”

The notion of a salad being a comfort food may seem a bit odd, but, then again, there’s clearly much about the Caesar that’s counter-intuitive. “You can get it at almost any pizza shop you go to and in a lot of Italian-American spots throughout the country. Most chain restaurants like TGI Fridays or Applebee’s are going to have a Caesar salad on their menu,” Urban says. “It’s just an item you’ve been bombarded with your whole life. You grow up eating it and don’t realize you liked it and then you become an adult and get a dressed-up version and appreciate it again. Once you hit the nostalgia in people, it really drives it home for them and they enjoy it.”

Below, Chez Nick’s elevated Caesar Salad recipe.

Chez Nick's Little Gem Caesar Salad

Prep Time: Minimal

Cook Time: None

Servings: Four servings

Ingredients:

For the Dressing

  • 1 cup Dukes mayo
  • 1.5 tsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. parmesan
  • 1 tbsp. dijon
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1.5 tsp. water
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 boquerones (anchovies)
  • Salt to Taste

For the Gremolata

  • 1 pt. Panko bread crumbs
  • ½ tsp. chili flake
  • 3 thyme stems (leaves picked)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil

For the Pickled Red Onions

  • One red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pt. white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ pt. sugar

For the little gem Caesar salad

  • Caesar dressing
  • Pickled red onions
  • 2 heads of little gem lettuce
  • Parmesan cheese to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • Maldon sea salt to taste
  • Gremolata
  • 6 boquerones
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Directions:

For the Dressing 

  1. Combine ingredients in a blender, starting with the boquerones, garlic cloves and black pepper then add the liquid ingredients on top and blend until smooth.
  2. Season with salt to taste. 

For the Gremolata

  1. Toast the panko in a medium-hot pan with the olive oil.
  2. Once the panko has a light golden color add the chili flakes, thyme leaves, garlic clove and salt to taste.
  3. Continue cooking until a golden brown color is reached throughout.
  4. Remove and cool on a sheet tray spread in an even layer.

For the Pickled Red Onions

  1. Bring liquid and sugar to a boil, then pour the hot liquid over the onion in a glass jar.
  2. Cover with a lid and let sit at room temperature for at least one hour before use.
  3. If you can, complete this process the day ahead.

For the elevated Caesar salad

  1. Take 2 heads of little gem lettuce and peel off any non-useable outer leaves. Separate the leaves into a large mixing bowl. 
  2. Once the lettuce is cleaned, season with a bit of Maldon sea salt, black pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, 3 tbsp. of Caesar dressing and mix gently. 
  3. Once the leaves are nicely coated in the dressing, feel free to add more Caesar if you like. 
  4. Place the salad in your serving bowl and top with parmesan cheese to taste, 6 of the pickled onion slices, 6 Boquerones (we use Ortiz brand), and 2 tbsp. of the crispy gremolata and serve.