It's Nori Caesar Season
Two secret ingredients for a funkier Caesar
True to its name, Caesar is the king of dressings. It goes with everything: perfect in a classic salad with croutons and romaine, sublime with some roasted broccoli and root vegetables, and possibly reaching its zenith in a grilled chicken Caesar wrap (when done properly). We should all know, at this point, that Caesar salad is untouchable. Dare we mess with it?
Despite my love and admiration for the classic Caesar, I’m here to convince you that you should; it’s a canvas that lends itself well to experimentation. And although the dressing is already loaded with umami flavor, a little extra umami never hurts. To really amp up your Caesar into next-level-savory territory, there are two great ingredients in your pantry’s arsenal: nori and dried shrimp.
These two standbys of East Asian cooking really complement a Caesar salad. I stumbled upon this combination when I had some leftover sheets of nori to use up, but it’s been explored before by the likes of Eric Kim, Kristina Cho, and Amanda Cohen. Both nori (roasted seaweed, for those unfamiliar) and dried shrimp lend a deeply funky, oceanic flavor that builds on the anchovies, capers, and Worcestershire sauce, making for an exceptionally bold dressing. I find that it works particularly well when you douse your salad with furikake and top it with some fat scallops seared in butter.
One final note: if you do include the dried shrimp, make sure to blend it into a fine powder ahead of time; this can be combined with salt, pepper, a bit of sugar, and any dried spices you like to make a delicious and very usable condiment, which keeps in the fridge forever. I would also make sure to get high-quality dried shrimp — the flavor can vary greatly — ideally from a nearby Chinatown or Koreatown (or H-Mart).
Nori Caesar Dressing
1 egg yolk
1-2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dried shrimp powder (optional)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
4-5 small, snack-sized sheets of nori (can be salted, but no additional flavoring)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, red or rice wine vinegar
1 pinch kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
Combine all of the ingredients (except the oil and water) in a food processor. Pulse until smooth.
With the processor running, slowly stream in the grapeseed oil for about 6-8 seconds. Pause and check the consistency of the mixture; it should be getting more voluminous. Then stream in the olive oil until the mixture is fully emulsified, slightly thinner than an aioli.
Add in a small amount of water and pulse. Repeat as necessary until you reach the desired consistency for the dressing.
Store covered in the fridge for up to 2 days; let it come to room temperature before using.
Nori Caesar Salad with Seared Scallops
About 3 tablespoons of Nori Caesar dressing
Old sourdough bread, torn into small chunks for croutons
1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, washed and thoroughly dried
4-5 large sea scallops, fresh (not packed in brine) and patted dry
Furikake (Japanese rice seasoning)
2-3 small, snack-sized sheets of nori (can be salted, but no additional flavoring)
Any tender green herbs (chives, cilantro, and/or parsley), chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Toss the chunks of bread in olive oil, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for approximately 15-20 minutes, or until they are well browned. Remove, set aside and let cool.
Cut the head of lettuce into eighths, or large-bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
Set a carbon steel pan over high heat. When it’s smoking hot, add a generous amount of grapeseed oil.
Pat the scallops dry one last time and liberally coat them in salt and pepper. Place them in the pan and let them cook, untouched, for about 30 seconds.
At the 30-second mark, add a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Watch for signs of browning on the underside of the scallops.
At about 90 seconds in, flip the scallops (hopefully at this point they have acquired a nice brown crust). Begin aggressively basting the scallops in the butter.
After an additional minute (roughly the 3 minute mark, total), remove the scallops from the pan and set aside (briefly).
Dress the lettuce, add the croutons, salt, pepper, and olive oil to taste, and add the chopped herbs. Sprinkle the furikake over the salad and toss.
Plate the salad; top first with some crushed nori shards, and then with the scallops. Drizzle with olive oil.