The first time I ordered a Caesar Salad I was completely overwhelmed, but not in a good way. It was just too salty, too greasy, too cheesy – it was just too much of everything and yet tasted of nothing in particular. Undeterred by this travesty of a salad, I decided to try making it at home. I told myself that such an iconic salad couldn’t possibly be so bad and I was right, it’s actually tastes bloody incredible! Done right, a Caesar Salad is salty, it is cheesy and yes, it is greasy but it is all a question of balance. The salad should be light but robust, subtle but punchy. In my opinion, the key is the lettuce-to-dressing ratio – get that right and it will make all the difference.
Admittedly the addition of the grilled chicken is an aberration but hey-ho, I’m no Caesar purist! I find the chicken lightens the overall dish and turns the salad into a substantial meal…and whilst I’m owning up to culinary aberrations, I also prefer using baby gem lettuce over the traditional cos! Scandalous I know, but I’m just muddled that way.
Classic Caesar Salad with Grilled Chicken: Serves 2
For the Croutons:
- 1 tbsp. butter, melted
- 1/2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- Some day-old rustic style bread (like a ciabatta), enough to make as many croutons as you want in your salad
- A good pinch of salt
- Ground cayenne pepper, a good pinch
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
For the Salad:
- 150g mini chicken fillets
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 2 large anchovy fillets
- Sea salt, a good pinch
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- A squeeze of lemon, about 1/2 tbsp.
- A dash of Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 egg yolk, the freshest you can find
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Enough lettuce for 2 (either baby gem or cos lettuce)
- A wedge of Pecorino cheese
- Set your oven to 220 degrees Celsius.
- Mix your chicken with some salt and pepper. I like to add a little bit of the oil from the anchovies, as it adds an extra flavour dimension to the chicken and ultimately makes for a more cohesive dish – if your prefer not to, just add some olive oil.
Making the Croutons:
- Remove the crust from your bread and cut into 2cm cubes.
- Combine the melted butter and the olive oil in a bowl. Add the cayenne and black pepper and then the salt. Be mindful of how much salt you add, especially if you’ve used salted butter. Add the bread cubes and toss to coat.
- Put the coated cubes on a baking tray and spreading them evenly. Place into the pre-heated oven and bake for 10 minutes until golden, turning them after 5 minutes. Watch them like a hawk as they can over-cook very quickly – you what them to be a light golden brown.
- Once cooked, set the croutons aside on some kitchen paper and use within half an hour.
Building the Salad:
- Separate the leaves of your chosen lettuce and wash. Dry the lettuce thoroughly – it is important that the leaves are completely dry. Depending on the size of your lettuce, chop into 3 to 4cm pieces – if using baby gem lettuce, keep the inner leaves whole and just chop up the larger outer leaves.
- Heat a griddle pan to a high heat and add the chicken. Leave undisturbed for about 4 minutes and then turn the chicken – cook until done. Set aside and cover with some tinfoil.
- Place the garlic, anchovy fillets and salt into a bowl large enough to mix the salad leaves in later. Using two fork, mash the garlic and anchovies into a “paste”. Once you are done, whisk in the egg yolk, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mustard. I normally use a small sauce whisk for this but you can also use one of the two forks you used for the mashing.
- Now slowly add the olive oil, you want to aim for a slow drizzle whilst all the while whisking furiously. This is the trickiest part of the recipe as you want the egg mixture and oil to emulsify, if it doesn’t you will have to start the dressing from scratch. Once the dressing has emulsified, add the lemon juice and give it a final whisk.
- Add the lettuce to the dressing bowl and, using your hands, toss the leaves with the creamy dressing. You don’t need to drench every inch of the lettuce with the dressing, you just want to lightly coat the leaves.
- Dish out the dressed leaves onto a serving plate and tuck-in the croutons. Add the chicken and grate over a generous amount of pecorino.
- Serve immediately.