I had also never made croutons from scratch, another fundamental element of the classic Caesar salad. And can I tell you, they are incredible! Since normally I would pick around the bland, rock-hard cubes, I was tempted to skip them entirely… but these were nothing like that. Believe me when I say they shone as the highlight of the dish – fragrant, crispy little nuggets of garlic bread heaven. It was a force of will not to eat them all straight from the oven.
Topped with juicy, perfectly grilled chicken breast, and a few shavings of parmesan cheese, this was without a doubt one of the best Caesar salads I’ve eaten. Freshly tossed, or served up in a wrap for a quick and tasty lunch, you simply cannot go wrong.
- 4 cups crusty French or Italian bread, cut into ½ inch cubes
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 2-3 TBSP olive oil
- Salt, to taste
- 1 large raw or coddled egg yolk*
- 1½ TBSP lemon juice
- 1 tsp. white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. anchovy paste (or 1 anchovy fillet)**
- 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed (I suggest starting with one, then adding another if you feel it needs it)
- ½ tsp. mustard powder**
- ½ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup good parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 2-3 TBSP water, as needed
- salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- 3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 3 hearts of romaine, washed, thoroughly dried, and chopped
- freshly grated or shaved parmesan cheese, to taste
- Dressing and croutons, to taste
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
- Cube bread and place in a large bowl. Crush the garlic with the flat side of a knife, and chop it roughly. Add a pinch of salt, and smash the garlic back and forth, smearing it with the flat side of the blade against the cutting board to make a paste. Add the paste to the bread, and toss with olive oil until lightly but evenly coated. Add a bit more salt, and toss to combine.
- Spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5-8 minutes, until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
- (Once completely cool, croutons can be stored in an airtight container or baggie at room temperature for up to a few days.)
- In the bowl of your food processor, combine all the ingredients except the olive oil, parmesan cheese, water, and salt and pepper. Blend to combine.
- While blending, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add the parmesan cheese, and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and thin with water to desired consistency. (You can also make other adjustments here, according to your tastes -- if you'd like a little more lemon or vinegar, a bit more mustard or anchovy, etc., add it now and pulse to combine.)
- Transfer to an airtight container or jar, and store in the fridge until you're ready to use. Dressing is best made an hour or two in advance to let the flavors come together, and can be stored in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.
- Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Brush grill with oil (or lightly oil a pan) and grill (or sear) for 3-4 minutes per side, or until the meat is cooked through. According to the FDA, the meat should register 165 degrees F. at it's thickest point on a meat thermometer. If you don't have a thermometer, you can slice into the thickest part and the juices should run clear. The meat should be white/opaque all the way through. Remove from the heat and allow to rest for a few minutes before slicing.
- Wash, dry, and chop romaine and add to a large bowl. When you're ready to serve, add a few TBSP dressing and toss to coat. Add more dressing one TBSP at a time to desired amount.
- Slice the chicken, and lay atop the salad. Garnish with freshly grated parmesan cheese and croutons, and serve.
(It's also possible to make a caesar dressing using mayonnaise in place of the raw eggs. However, because mayonnaise is already emulsified, you will need to reduce or eliminate the olive oil to avoid having a greasy, runny dressing. This will throw off the proportions of the other ingredients as well, but you're welcome to play around with them to come up with a raw-egg-free dressing that suits your tastes.)
**Traditional caesar dressing was made without anchovies or mustard. I've included them both here because I know I prefer it that way. They provide a nice roundness of flavor, without making the dressing taste fishy or mustardy (if you aren't a fan of anchovies or mustard, I doubt you'll even notice they're there). If you prefer to omit the anchovies, I suggest replacing them with a splash more worcestershire sauce.