Cooking School: Chicken Caesar Salad

Chicken Caesar Salad

Week five’s Masters Series class at CulinAerie covered greens, which was essentially code for salads and dressings. On the surface, it doesn’t sound all that exciting. But in reality, the class was quite informative and very helpful in terms of applying what I learned to my everyday cooking at home.

I try to eat a lot of salad to help balance out my diet, either everyday for lunch or with dinner. I also try to make my own dressing when possible. Usually it’s just a simple vinaigrette. But, it turns out I had been making it the wrong way all along. Normally I would just add all of the ingredients to a bowl and whisk it together for a minute or so. Wrong! Proper technique will tell you to first add the acid, emulsifier and aromatics; then add the oil in a slow and steady stream, while constantly whisking, in order to properly emulsify the dressing.

This might not be the most eye-opening, revolutionary piece of culinary information out there, but I found it to be useful. Plus, it’s always good to learn the proper technique, especially when you’ve been doing something wrong for so long.

So, Caesar salad. The king of what many believe to be an unimaginative, overly used salad on too many restaurant menus. It’s an easy argument to understand too, especially when so many restaurants simply rely upon giant vats of processed Caesar dressing, pre-chopped bagged romaine, and pre-made croutons from the Sysco truck. Even McDonald’s sells chicken Caesar salad wraps. It’s everywhere!

But, if you think about it, there’s a reason for this. And if you’ve ever tried freshly made Caesar dressing, it’s quite easy to understand. Combined with homemade croutons, freshly shredded parmesan cheese, and warm sliced chicken – it all makes sense.

Chicken Caesar Salad
Serves 4

4 Chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
Italian herb mix
Vegetable oil
3 Romaine hearts
1 cup Caesar dressing (see below)
2 cups Croutons (see below)
1/2 cup Shredded parmesan cheese

Season the chicken evenly with salt, pepper, and the herb mix. Heat a large skillet to medium-high and add 1 TBSP of oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add the chicken breasts and saute for about 5 minute per side, until cooked evenly through and lightly browned on the outside. Remove from the pan and reserve.

Discard the root ends from the romaine hearts. Cut the romaine into 3/4 inch pieces, slicing crosswise. In a large bowl, toss the romaine with Caesar dressing until fully coated.

Evenly distribute the romaine among serving plates and top with croutons and parmesan cheese. Cut each chicken breast into 1/2 inch slices and serve atop each salad.

Caesar Dressing
Makes a little over 1 cup

2 egg yolks
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 TBSP anchovies, minced
1 TBSP grated parmesan cheese
6 TBSP canola oil
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the egg yolks, lemon juice, garlic, anchovies, and parmesan cheese. Beat with a whisk until a paste begins to form. Continue whisking and gradually pour in the oil until you have a nice, somewhat thick, and smooth consistency. Season with salt and plenty of pepper, and stir in a dash of the Worcestshire sauce.

You can also use a blender to make the dressing, just follow the same steps.

4 slices sandwich bread
Salt and pepper
Italian herb mix
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Remove the crusts from the sandwich bread and discard. Cut the bread into 3/4 inch squares. In a bowl, toss the bread with salt, pepper, herb mix, and oil until fully coated. Spread the  bread on a sheet pan in a single layer.

Place the pan on the middle rack in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan, flip the croutons and return to the oven for 5 more minutes. At this point, the croutons should be a nice golden brown color.


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