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A Thomas Keller Lunch ‘Al Desko’? Yes, Please


A Thomas Keller Lunch ‘Al Desko'? Yes, Please

By Patricia Tortolani | April 8, 2020 | Food & Drink National

What makes a perfect caesar salad? Chef Thomas Keller shares his recipe.

ThomasKellerbyWilliam_Hereford226.jpgChef Thomas Keller

I’m sure this information will elicit about as little sympathy from you as it did from my coworkers, but still: My husband loves to cook. And he’s pretty damn good at it. Over the years his repertoire has evolved from smash burgers and cacio e pepe to crepes and cassoulet. But even in our highly active kitchen stadium, we find that some dishes are best left to the pros.

At the top of the “Just Tastes Better at a Restaurant” list: Caesar Salad. Probably one of the most commonly featured menu items in the country, it seems so simple. It is not. And so, I reached out Thomas Keller to see if he can help out with my latest lunch al desko request. Herewith, Chef Thomas Keller’s Classic Caesar Salad. Bonus points if my chef (er, husband) comes through with The Surf Club Restaurant by Chef Thomas Keller tableside preparation.


The Surf Club Restaurant Club Caesar Salad


1 large garlic clove, peeled, root removed
Pinch Maldon salt
1 egg yolk, chalazae removed with tweezer
11⁄4 ounces anchovy paste (see recipe)
3 ounces vinaigrette base (see recipe)
6 ounces romaine lettuce hearts, cut into 11⁄2" pieces, washed, dried and chilled
1 ounce country bread croutons (see recipe)
2⁄3 ounce parmesan crisps (see recipe)
Parmesan cheese, for grating Black pepper, in mill


  • Set a damp linen towel down in a 6" ring on a flat surface and place the bottom of the wooden salad bowl inside of it. This will help secure the bowl when preparing the salad.
  • Pour the vinaigrette base into the small pitcher or creamer (It is ok if this is not emulsified).
  • Place all the other components of the salad in individual small ramekins and dishes appropriate to their size or volume.
  • To begin preparing the salad, add a pinch of Maldon salt and the garlic clove to the base of the bowl.
  • Use the dinner fork to lightly crush the garlic clove against the bottom of the bowl.
  • Pierce the garlic with the fork and rub the interior of the bowl well with the garlic and salt. This will season the bowl and release the aromas and flavors of the garlic.
  • Remove and discard the garlic clove.
  • Place the egg yolk into the base of the bowl and spoon the anchovy paste next to the yolk.
  • Hold one of the salad spoons in your strong hand like a pencil and with the other hold the pitcher of vinaigrette base.
  • Begin vigorously stirring the yolk and anchovy paste together.
  • While continuously stirring, slowly stream the vinaigrette base into the yolk/anchovy mixture in order to form an emulsion. The key is to pour slow and stir quickly. You may have to stop streaming the vinaigrette intermittently in order to maintain the emulsion. Once all the vinaigrette has been incorporated you should have a thick creamy emulsified dressing.
  • Add the romaine lettuce and toss in the dressing until the leaves are coated.
  • Add the country bread croutons and the parmesan crisps and gently toss a few times.
  • Season the salad with freshly ground black pepper and grate a generous amount of parmesan cheese into the salad using a Microplane.
  • Gently toss a few more times to distribute the components.
  • Plate salad in chilled bowls.

Anchovy Paste


1 ounce oil-cured anchovies, drained
1 ounce boquerones (marinated white anchovies), drained
1 ounce parmesan cheese, finely grated on a Microplane
1 ounce roasted garlic (remove top of garlic heads, drizzle with canola oil) wrap in foil and bake in 350°F oven until golden brown and soft. Squeeze garlic from skins)
1⁄2 ounce Dijon mustard
1 ounce water
1⁄3 ounce kosher salt
1⁄4 ounce raw garlic clove, peeled, root removed


• Combine all of the ingredients in a small blender and puree until very smooth. You will need to scrape down the sides of the blender jar a few times with a small rubber spatula while pureeing.
• Alternatively, this paste may be prepared in a heavy mortar and pestle.
• This recipe may be prepared ahead of time. Store any leftover anchovy paste in a small, airtight container inside the freezer and reserve for future use.

Vinaigrette Base


21⁄4 ounces extra virgin olive oil (select a soft, buttery variety)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
11⁄4 teaspoons Banyuls vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce


  • Combine all ingredients, they do not have to be mixed or emulsified.
  • Store at room temperature.

Country Bread Crumbs


2 ounces rustic sourdough bread, crust removed (gluten-free bread may be used)
3 tablespoons light olive oil Kosher salt


  • Preheat your oven to 325°F.
  • While the oven is heating, tear the bread into small bite-sized pieces (about 5/8") into a small mixing bowl.
  • Drizzle the olive oil evenly over the bread.
  • Season the bread lightly with kosher salt.
  • Toss the bread gently to evenly coat all the pieces.
  • Transfer the bread to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  • Bake in the oven checking after 15 minutes. Continue baking, checking about every 5 minutes until the croutons are a rich golden brown color and crisp.
  • Remove from oven and cool.
  • This recipe may be prepared in advance and stored at room temperature in a small airtight container.

Parmesan Crisps


11⁄2 ounces parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 teaspoon all purpose (or gluten-free) flour


  • Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.
  • Grate the parmesan into a small mixing bowl. It is best to grate the cheese at the last minute so that it maintains its moisture and melts together well.
  • Toss the cheese with the flour to evenly distribute it.
  • Sprinkle the cheese onto the mat into a small circle that is about 3/16" thick (the cheese will not cover the entire surface of the mat and the shape is not very important).
  • Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven.
  • Check after about 7 minutes for a thin sheet of melted cheese that has a deep, uniform golden color. Continue checking every couple of minutes until this is achieved.
  • Remove from the oven and cool.
  • Break the sheet of crisp parmesan into small bite-sized pieces.
  • This recipe may be prepared in advance and stored at room temperature in a small airtight container.

To help chef Keller’s staff impacted by the pandemic, the Thomas Keller Restaurant Group set up the Keller Restaurant Relief Fund. All of the proceeds go toward aiding workers in California, New York, Las Vegas and Miami with housing, medical expenses, care for the elderly and children and other basic needs.

Photography by: Deborah Jones