Warm Caesar Salad
Caesar salad has become so commonplace and so commonly bastardised (and badly at that), that it’s easy to forget how good a good one can be. It was actually invented in Mexico by an enterprising geezer named Caesar, though I doubt he knew at the time that his innocent creation would take on a life of its own.
There is one element to a Caesar salad that makes it a Caesar salad: the dressing. This is as important to the dish as a sausage is to a hot dog. Everything else is negotiable, to varying extents, and we have gone simple with this recipe. As with anything simple, the key is to get good quality ingredients and cook them well, because there’s nowhere to hide.
Our salad takes a cue from the French, in that we are cooking the lettuce. People elsewhere seem to think that the idea of hot lettuce is mad, but I assure you that it’s worth giving it a go – particularly with the quantity of butter we are using here! If you plan to make your own croutons, be sure to get the best quality bread you can. We used a sourdough baguette from French & Day Delicatessen, Ware, purchased the day before and allowed to go stale, which helps with crispness and makes for a better end result.
This is not a hard and fast recipe – feel free to make it exactly as prescribed or cherry-pick the elements you fancy and introduce your own ideas. A nice variation would be to smoke, rather than grill, the chicken for a more pronounced live-fire flavour, or even to take the dressing recipe and use it as a sauce in a chicken sandwich. Any way you mix it up will have a flavour that is recognisably a Caesar salad, as long as you don’t compromise on the dressing.
For the dressing
• 5 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
• 6-8 tablespoons Stokes mayonnaise
• Lemon juice
• 1 clove garlic
• 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
• Salt & pepper
For the croutons
• 1 sourdough baguette
• Olive oil
• Salt & pepper
• 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
• 8 rashers smoked streaky bacon
• 4 heads baby gem lettuce
• 250g unsalted butter
• Barbecue – charcoal, gas or electric
• Weber GBS griddle
1. To make the dressing, chop the anchovies and garlic until they’re a fine paste (can use a food processor too). Mix in the mayonnaise, parmesan and about a tablespoon of lemon juice and season to taste. Feel free to tweak the quantities to suit your taste. The dressing can be made the day before and kept overnight in the fridge.
2. For the croutons, cut the baguette into half-inch cubes, toss with olive oil and salt and then fry off in a griddle pan over direct heat, stirring frequently. Keep the lid down so that they bake in ambient heat as well as frying indirect heat. When they are done, set aside to cool and crisp up. These can be done in batches as they are not served hot.
3. When you’re ready to make the salad, cook the chicken using indirect heat up until it reads 65°C in the thickest part of the breast, then put it over a direct heat to colour it to your preference all over. It needs to come up to 74°C internal, and I usually take mine off at 72°C so that it carries over to 74°C while resting. If you want to be cautious, cook it until it reads 74°C internal and then rest it. Whichever of these you do, set the chicken aside to rest somewhere warm while you cook the lettuce and bacon.
4. Place the griddle back over a direct heat and add the 250g butter. This will provide something between a fry and a braise for the lettuce and the results are delicious. Cut each head of lettuce in half and place the flat cut face in the hot butter. While the lettuce cooks, sear off the bacon over direct heat and set aside once ready.
5. To assemble, place four halves of lettuce in a bowl and top with half the bacon, half the croutons and half the sauce. Place the remaining four halves of lettuce on top again, followed by everything else, except the dressing but including the chicken, which should be carved into eight pieces. To do this, take the legs off and separate the thigh from the drumstick, then take the breasts off the bone and cut them in half.
6. Finally, top everything with the remaining dressing and sprinkle over some finely chopped chives for garnish.