Is Caesar Salad one of those things that, like prawn cocktail, is supposedly tarred with the brush of tacky 1970s-dinner-party-dom? For some reason, I have it in my head as something people categorise as a Guilty Pleasure. Of course, such things are the purest nonsense; if eating something is a pleasure, provided it’s done in moderation, what is there to feel guilty about, especially on the basis of perceived coolness? The entire notion baffles me.*
In any case, I am a confirmed fan of The Big Salad, and this is surely the pinnacle (or at least near the summit) of the medium. I think, with recipes like this, insistence on authenticity of any kind is a fool’s errand (there will be those who disagree) but I think, provided the dressing is something you’d recognise as A Caesar, you can probably go your own way with it. For my own part, I think including croutons. a protein, like chicken, a crunchy lettuce (traditionally Romaine, but I don’t see why it has to be) and plenty of other delicious, preferably crunchy elements is a good policy. The below is my approach, but feel free to experiment.
There are methods out there that involve making your own mayonnaise and the rest of it. Feel free to use them. This is a recipe that befits a time-starved parent, or indeed anyone else who has no wish to make their own mayonnaise.
A note on bread: Fresh bread doesn’t really work too well with this, but you can use it if you have no other option. Bread that is too stale is often too hard. The ideal state is something in between fluffy fresh and hard-as-a-rock, which is usually something between 2-4 days old.
You will need:
For the Garlic Croutons:
- A large hunk of Stale White Bread, 2-4 days old, crusts removed, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces
- Two cloves of garlic, crushed to a paste or finely chopped
- a good slug of Olive Oil, or a Neutral Oil like Rapeseed
For the Dressing:
- 100ml Mayonnaise
- 1tbsp White Wine Vinegar
- 1tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2-4 Anchovies, finely chopped
- Half a Clove of Garlic, crushed to a paste
- A handful of Grated Italian Hard Cheese, such as Parmesan, Grana Padano or Pecorino
For the Salad:
- Two Cooked Chicken Breasts, or a generous heap of leftovers picked from a roast chicken
- A Romaine Lettuce, A couple of heads of Little Gem, or the equivalent in anything crunchy
- A Spring Onion, finely sliced
- Any Crunchy Salad Bits you fancy (I used thinly sliced Radishes and Sugar Snap Peas)
- Anything else you have lying around that looks like it might be nice (in our case a ripe Avocado and a big handful each of Rocket and Watercress)
- Some shaved Hard Cheese, whatever you used in the dressing
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Toss the bread pieces in the oil, garlic and a little salt and pepper until well covered, then put on a tray in the oven for 15 minutes til crisp and golden, giving them a shake around after 10. Remove to a large salad bowl and leave to cool.
If you’re preparing your chicken specially, rather than using leftovers, I recommend butterflying a couple of breasts and frying them in butter for 3-5 minutes per side, til cooked through. The method isn’t important though, any old cooked chicken will do, cut or torn into smallish bite-sized pieces.
Whilst the croutons are cooling, make the dressing. Put everything but the cheese in a bowl, and mix well. The mixture should have something like thickness of double cream. If it seems too stiff, loosen it with a little more olive oil, a tiny bit at a time, until it reaches the desired consistency. Add the cheese, mix everything together, taste and season with salt and pepper (but for god’s sakes, do so carefully; you’re using salty anchovies and cheese, so you’re not seasoning from the ground up, so to speak.)
Put all your ingredients in your biggest salad bowl and toss together, so everything is covered with dressing, preferably with your (extremely clean) hands. The usual, conservative rules of dressing a salad don’t apply here; it is, within reason, a case of more is more. If the dressing seems at all claggy, add a little more oil to the salad, and continue mixing.
Serve straight away, in big bowls. Maybe a bottle of wine, perhaps Prosecco can be involved somehow. As with almost any salad, if there’s any chance of eating it in the garden, do so.
*NB it may be that nobody on earth thinks Caesar Salad is uncool or a throwback, in which case ignore me, if you aren’t doing so already.