Recipe: The ultimate chicken Caesar salad
- Credit: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis
The humble Caesar salad has seen a hell of a lot of peaks and troughs since it was, allegedly, invented on the fly by Caesar Cardini in Tijuana back in the early 20s.
Considered somewhat standard fare on pub grub menus and in cafes across the land, in the wrong hands it can be a mushy, soggy affair, packed with salt and sugar – yes sugar!
In some spots it’s an afterthought – cobbled together carelessly to fill a bowl.
In others, the creation of a Caesar is an artform. Some restaurants in the US still honour the salad’s Prohibition-era heyday by preparing the dressing with flourish, tableside, before spooning it carefully over crisp leaves, garnishing with croutons.
I have to admit, it’s not something I’d ever order because the quality is so variable from one place to the next. But I will make my own version at home, especially at this time of year, when the heat and mugginess have me craving the juicy nourishment of anything from the garden.
The latest in a flurry of produce from dad’s allotment to end up in my fridge includes frilly-edged lettuces and endless carrier bags of broad beans.
I have a fond affection for these little legumes. Aside from the fact they’re delicious, there is just something truly soporific about sitting somewhere quiet with the pods, needling your nails into their verdant jackets, and popping the beans out from their pillowy slumber.
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As a child I remember spending quite a bit of time sitting on a bench in the garden with my mum, in the dappled shade of an apple tree, plucking beans from their shells and popping them out of their fibrous skins. At the time I imagine I guffawed at having to do anything in the summer that took me away from playing curbsies or getting seaters around the block on the back of my friends’ bikes. Today I look back with rose-tinted glasses, and (try to) encourage my own kids to perch with me awhile, lending a hand with the task.
It is laborious. But with the radio or a podcast on, this is the kind of mindful and mindless activity that’s good for the soul.
These, alongside dad’s leaves, were tumbled together recently with tarragon spears from the herb patch, some bacon-wrapped chicken off the barbecue, and a rough, chunky, Caesar-alike dressing, coming together into a warm salad the likes of which you dream you’ll get served when you’re out at dinner. A composition of good, wholesome ingredients, brought to life by salty, spiky garlic-hot bites of sauce.
As with all salads, you can make this your own. Some bacon-wrapped monkfish would work in place of chicken. Throw in some cashew nuts or almonds. Add some dwarf beans, podded peas or runners.
I would love to see your warm salad creations. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charlotte’s ‘kind of’ Caesar salad
2 chicken breasts
4 rashers pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
2 frilly heads of lettuce, washed and dried
2 handfuls broad beans or peas, podded measurement
1tbsp fresh tarragon
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 salted anchovy fillets, chopped
1tsp Dijon or grain mustard
1 handful grated strong Cheddar (vintage or farmhouse)
1 egg yolk
4tbsps olive oil
2tbsps lemon juice
Fresh black pepper
2 slices stale bread, brushed with oil, toasted until crisp and broken into pieces
To begin, make the dressing. Simply whisk all the ingredients together into a chunky emulsion. If you like it smoother blitz in a blender but I prefer it like a rough pesto.
Set this aside in the fridge.
Wrap your chicken in the bacon and bake at 200C for 25 minutes, or grill until crisp. If you want a barbecue flavour, do as I did. Wrap the chicken in clingflim and poach in simmering water for 15 minutes. Unwrap and transfer to the barbecue or even a pizza oven, to crisp the bacon and finish the cooking process. Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes.
While the chicken rests fry off the broad beans – which enhances their nutty flavour. Pour about half a tablespoon of oil into a frying pan and add the beans, cooking until they start to colour at the edges. Drain and season.
Place the salad leaves in a salad bowl and toss through the broad beans and tarragon. Spoon over the dressing. Slice the chicken and perch on top. Finish with the croutons.