Should You Cut Or Tear The Romaine For Caesar Salad?

There has been no shortage of debate over how a Caesar salad should be prepared. The biggest disagreement tends to be over whether or not anchovies belong in the dressing. The discussion over how exactly the romaine lettuce should be prepared, however, deserves some attention. It's the ingredient that makes up the body of salad, so how your romaine is processed is going to affect how the salad turns out. The question is, should you cut or tear your romaine lettuce?

Romaine is the unsung hero of the Caesar salad recipe. Thanks to its stiff, upright leaves and its mild, crisp taste, romaine provides balance for the intense flavors of the dressing. It's also quite bulky and so offers substance. The original salad recipe, from the Hotel Caesar in Tijuana, Mexico, uses nearly the whole leaf, with just the bottom of the head removed. Versions today utilize smaller pieces, which are easier to toss than large leaves, and allow the dressing to spread more evenly throughout the salad. 

Now, if you want to stay true to the original Caesar recipe, tearing might be the way to go here. All you'd need to do is pluck the leaf away from its base stem and Bob's your uncle. However, cutting is the far more effective method, especially if you're making Caesar salad for a crowd.

Why you should cut instead of tear

Here's the thing about tearing lettuce: While it may be fun to rip it apart by hand in a large bowl, it is almost impossible to get the lettuce pieces to be uniform. You'll get large and small chunks, meaning that if you're trying to serve equal portions to guests, you're going to have a hard time. 

There is also the question of heat. Your hands produce a decent amount of heat, your palms in particular. This will warm the lettuce, and romaine is best served chilled. It has a larger water quantity than other varieties of lettuce, so the colder the romaine, the crispier it will be. There are some schools of thought that say lettuce will brown faster once it has been cut with a blade. But there is no evidence to verify this. Lettuce will turn brown at the same rate whether it is torn by hand or cut with a knife.

Once you've cut the romaine into bite-sized pieces, wash it, and ensure it is thoroughly dry before dressing it. If the lettuce is too wet, the dressing will get too watery and won't stick to the leaves well. The result should be a fantastically uniform presentation. If that is what you are going for, the only way to achieve it is with a knife.