I make no claims to authenticity for this recipe; it’s just a combination of some I found in books and online. But during the life of this blog, I’ve discovered that ‘authentic recipes’ are an elusive breed; there are always variations, sometimes hotly argued, but I would say that the essence of any classic recipe needs to shine through so you’re in no doubt about what you’re eating.
A Caesar salad, be it served with chicken or not, needs a nice crispy lettuce (I happened to have Little Gem but Romaine and Cos are frequently used), some crunchy croûtons, a creamy egg-yolk based dressing and a good grating of Parmesan cheese. Some people like to add anchovies and indeed, I thought I would try that, only to discover the tins lurking at the top of my store cupboard were out of date – so no anchovies! Others add Worcestershire sauce. I found many recipes that used ready-made mayonnaise as a base but I feel that’s cheating (OK maybe for a quick supper fix or a ‘safer’ dressing for the young and pregnant than raw egg) and you wouldn’t get the right tangy flavour or proper Caesar consistency. I pretty much based my dressing on a Nigel Slater recipe I’ve blogged about before, but with lemon juice instead of vinegar and some extra oil because I wanted to put in some Parmesan, which would obviously thicken it.
Chicken Caesar Salad (serves 1)
- 1 chicken breast
- 1 thick slice of sourdough bread, preferably 1-2 days old
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1 Little Gem lettuce (or other crispy lettuce)
- Parmesan to grate over for serving
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 egg yolk
- juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 level teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan
- 6 tablespoon olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
I made the dressing first: a crushed clove of garlic, the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, cheese and olive oil into a bowl, then a fast whizz with the hand blender until it was thick, pale and creamy.
I only had wholegrain Dijon mustard but would have preferred the smooth version. Taste and then season accordingly; maybe add a little more lemon juice. Make it taste right for you. You want a fairly thick consistency but one that will run and easily coat the lettuce.
Now make the croûtons: Cut a thick slice from a sourdough loaf, preferably a day or two old rather than fresh. Cut into dice (some people like to pull it apart), put in a bowl and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil.
Mix round with your fingers to coat the pieces of bread then lay them out on a baking tray. Put into a preheated oven at 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 for 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until nicely golden brown.
I cooked my chicken on a griddle, simply smearing it with a little olive oil and lightly seasoning with salt and pepper (if you don’t have a griddle, fry in a small pan or grill). While it was cooking, I started to put the rest of the salad together. I separated the leaves of a Little Gem lettuce, breaking the larger ones in half. Then I spooned over some of the dressing and carefully folded the lettuce leaves over to coat each one with dressing. Then I transferred to a serving bowl and added the croûtons.
When the chicken was nicely browned on each side, I removed it from the griddle and left to rest for 3-5 minutes on a cutting board. Then I cut it into thick slices and lay it on top of the lettuce. Some people like to shred or cut up the chicken into small pieces and mix everything together, but I prefer to keep the chicken separate on top.
Then I drizzled over a little more of the Caesar dressing and shaved over thin slices of Parmesan.
Surprisingly, I’ve never made a Caesar salad before. I say ‘surprisingly’ because it’s one of my favourite things. At one time I almost always had it at Joe Allen, who make a superb one. Sadly it’s a dish that can be poorly made and thus disappointing, so I’m careful about where I eat it. Happily my own version hit the mark and was truly gorgeous: tender pieces of chicken, crunchy but light croûtons, crisp lettuce and a deliciously creamy, slightly tangy dressing, all coming together in perfect harmony. Thus I shall definitely have to make it again soon!