I wouldn't hold it against you if you told me you never eat Caesar Salad.
Frankly, I don't blame you. More often than not, the dish is overdressed with a salty, creamy muck coating giant croutons, wilted lettuce and way too much poor quality parmesan. It's a more a slop than a salad.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Really. Take away the heavy dressing and replace it with something light and bright. Lose the croutons and replace them with a more interesting alternative that still delivers crunch. Trade up from domestic parmesan to the real deal: Italian parmigiano-reggiano.
My journey of rediscovery started in the summer fo 2011 when I got a Ceasar from Graffiato, Mike Isabella's then newly opened Italian restaurant. I was surprised that the server had recommended it, but I wasn't disappointed by its fresh flavors and prominent anchovies, which were laying right on top (this was also when I started my journey to embrace the little salty fishes, which I recommend everyone open their mind to). Then, earlier this year, I also had a good Caesar at Palena Cafe, which included fried capers and a bright, lemony dressing.
Thinking back, another Caesar I really admire is the one served at Casey Jones in La Plata, Md. They grill their lettuce, which is a nice touch, and serve the salad with a parmesan tuile--“tuile” being a French term for a thin wafer, pretty much equivalent to frico, which I think is a more appropriate term for this, given that frico is Italian and Caesar was Roman, but I digress. All that to say that I wanted a frico in my Caesar salad.
|Fried capers give this Caesar crunch instead of croutons and add a welcome briny note.
So I took in all those lessons and came up with this Caesar which, with the addition of some sauteed chicken, makes a nice dinner. It's lighter, brighter and tastier than the gloppy concoction you might remember. So don't be a Brutus and give Caesar another chance.
Updated Caesar Salad with Chicken
Makes 2 dinner servings
Canola or olive (not extra virgin) oil
2 tbsp. large capers, drained, rinsed and carefully dried
3/4 lb. chicken breast cutlets (optional)
1 garlic clove
3 anchovy fillets
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling on the salad
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 head of romaine lettuce, outer leaves removed, inner leaves roughly torn
Frico, one for each salad (see recipe)
1. Pour enough canola or olive oil into a small skillet or saucepan to make a layer about 1/4- to 1/2-inch deep. Heat oil to 350 F. Drop capers into oil and cook until they turn light brown, about a minute. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
2. If using chicken, heat 2 tbsp. oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Pat chicken dry and sauté in pan until browned and cooked through, about 10 minutes total turning halfway through. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Using a mortar and pestle (or a Pyrex measuring cup and the blunt end a cocktail muddler), mash the garlic clove with a sprinkle of salt until it forms a paste. Add the anchovy fillets and continue mashing until they also form a paste with the garlic. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, parmesan and pepper to taste and whisk to combine.
4. Add the lettuce to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Portion onto plate and serve topped with fried capers, sautéed chicken, frico and sprinkled grated parmesan to taste.