chicken caesar salad
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I once went through a phase of sampling chicken Caesar salad in most restaurants I went to – I was travelling along the East Coast of US and Canada, eating out most nights, and most nights it would be CCS for a starter. Or for a main if I was less hungry. They know what they’re doing in America with CCS – after all it was invented there.
My research was on the whole rather satisfying – with one or two exceptions of the chicken bland and pale, cut into perfect geometric cubes. The dressing would usually be smooth, slightly fishy and very Parmesany. The croutons were generally made of bread*.
It is one of those dishes you kind of forget about and then when put in front of you, well prepared, turns out to be one of the strong favourites. I like classic – with freshly roasted chicken (although God knows it’s usually made with leftover roast, the way Caesar Cardini first made it in 1920s), delicious buttery croutons and lots of Parmesan. But I’ve decided to do a deconstructed salad (don’t you just love the concept?) where the bread is hugging the chicken rather than lying side by side indifferently.
Purists and critics might comment that it’s a Chicken Nugget Salad, not Caesar. So be it. Damn tasty. Might be a hit with kids if you stick to that name.
*Though I’ve seen it made with brioche croutons, chickpeas and even pasta. Now I’m all for experimenting, as below will show, but – NO. Chickpeas have no place in CCS. Neither has kale instead of lettuce – bleurghh.
- 200g boneless chicken meat, breast or deboned thighs
- salt, pepper, garlic seasoning
- a little flour for coating
- 1 egg
- 100g or thereabouts breadcrumbs (panko if available)
- 30g Parmesan, a third grated and the rest shaved
- a knob of butter
- groundnut or sunflower oil, for deep frying
- cos or romaine lettuce
- a few rocket leaves
- For the dressing:
- 2 anchovy fillets in oil, drained
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tsp mayonnaise
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 15g Parmesan, grated
- 2 tsp crème fraiche
- a little cold water
First prepare the dressing: chop up the garlic and the anchovies roughly and pound them into a paste in a mortar and pestle. You might need to add a little black pepper to grind it more easily. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well and add enough water to have a spooning consistency.
For the chicken: cut the meat into bite sized chunks, season well, then dip them in flour to coat thoroughly. Beat the egg with a little water in a bowl and mix the breadcrumbs with the grated Parmesan in another. Dip the chicken pieces in the egg wash, turning them over to cover well, and then in the breadcrumbs. Place on a tray and chill for half an hour. You will certainly have some breadcrumbs-Parmesan mix left over so let’s use that up: melt the butter in a little skillet and fry the breadcrumbs until they absorb all the butter and turn golden – careful not to burn them. Drain on a paper towel.
Heat up the oil in a large pan or a wok to 200C/400F. Drop the chicken pieces in and fry for 5 minutes until deep golden. Drain on paper towel.
Chop the lettuce and rocket roughly and toss with half the dressing in a big bowl. Divide between individual bowls or plates, add the slightly cooled chicken, the Parmesan shavings, drizzle the rest of the dressing over the chicken pieces and top with the fried breadcrumbs.