What is the deal with Caesar salad?? I’ve ordered it in many different places from neighborhood cafes here in Munich, to stylish places in California or Budapest. If there’s no dish on a restaurant’s menu that coaxes me instantly AND the place happens to offers Caesar salad – plan B is an easy one. That, however, doesn’t automatically mean that all of my Caesar salad endeavors have been pleasurable ones. Quite the contrary, in fact I’ve had really bad ones. Either my expectations towards this very salad are way out of reach for most restaurants or serving this classic gives chefs a good excuse to put a perfectly good label on mediocre food quality delivered. Limp leaves, drowned in way too much dressing, over the top garlicky or Parmesan cluttered – all these things can quickly ruin an otherwise beautifully balanced mix.
I realize I’m possibly opening up a can of worms, triggering a debate on authenticity. Try this at your own risk: Open a thread about Caesar salad in any food forum and you will be rewarded with an endless and heated debate between people telling you what ingredients you have to use, why you are a complete moron if you don’t and the ones altering the recipes from start to finish. Actually, I understand both sides, I really do, yet I never got the point why people tend to become overly bossy and dogmatic when discussing food. I look at it this way: If I’m about to prepare a kitchen classic, take Spaghetti Carbonara or Gazpacho con Tropezones for instance, it doesn’t hurt to inform yourself beforehand what the traditional recipe involves (…no, there is absolutely no heavy cream in Spaghetti Carbonara…). With that said, your kitchen is your playground, feel free to try whatever floats your boat – just don’t call it authentic or classic anymore.
Anyway, back to my kind of Caesar salad. My version is everything most restaurant versions keep missing… and a bit more, I think. A finger lickin’ good dressing, tiny pieces of crisp bacon, spicy chicken with a hint of Indian flavor (ok, ok, my touch, remember: my kitchen) and soft Avocado cubes add to this classic and I wouldn’t want to miss them in my salad bowl anymore. The flavor! The crunch!
Trim the hearts of the romaine salad, then cut the leaves into stripes, as thick as a finger. Thoroughly wash the lettuce, then spin dry. Set aside, into a huge bowl.
Prepare the dressing (all ingredients should have room temperature): Using your mortar make a paste from the finely chopped garlic clove, anchovies and coarse sea salt. Add this paste to a large mixing bow, as well as the egg yolk, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice. Briefly beat with a whisk, then add olive oil by the tablespoon and whisk well in-between. Lastly add water by the tablespoon (whisk well) and season to taste (keep in mind, that the salad will contain seasoned chicken, bacon and Parmesan in the end!). Keep in the fridge until ready too use.
Prepare the bacon croutons: Cut the bread into bite-size cubes (I discard the crust beforehand), the bacon into tiny bites. Put into a large pan, drizzle with some olive oil, then mix with your hands until everything is equally coated. Roast over medium heat until both the bacon and the bread have become crisp and gained some nice flecks of color (stir every now and then). Remove from pan and set aside.
Prepare the chicken: Wash and clean the chicken breast, then cut into long thin slices. Marinate in a bowl with freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, garam masala and olive oil for 5 minutes. Heat a large pan over medium to high heat (I always use the same pan as I took for the croutons – no need to clean it), then add the chicken. Resist the urge to move the chicken around, let it sit there and gain some color first (peaking underneath one piece is allowed). Once they gained a nice golden brown color you can flip them over. Remove from the pan as soon as the other side looks similar. Cut into bite-size pieces while hot (use a fork, if it’s too hot for you to hold), then put back into the warm pan (not on the stove anymore!) until ready to finish.
Finish off by cutting the avocado into neat little cubes (it would get brown, if you’d do this in the beginning) and making some Parmesan shaving using a peeler. Assemble the salad just minutes before serving: Mix the romaine leaves with the dressing, then add the chicken bites, the bacon croutons, avocado and Parmesan shavings. Indulge – salad has never tasted better.
My kind of Caesar salad
Recipe source: own creation
Prep time: ~40min.
Ingredients (for 2 as a main dish):
2-3 hearts of romaine (depending on size and appetite)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2-3 anchovy fillets (in oil)
1/8 tsp flaky sea salt (e.g. Maldon)
1 egg yolk (L)
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 tbsp lemon juice (freshly squeezed)
6-8 tbsp olive oil, plus a little more for frying
4 tbsp water
50g breakfast bacon
3-4 slices of (stale) white bread
250g chicken breast
freshly ground black pepper
fine sea salt
garam masala powder