One of the most embarrassing experiences I have ever had occurred because of a salad. It took place in the west of Ireland after three nights at an Irish blues festival that changed both my view of the world and my capacity for drink. My best friend Pat, I, and my boss at the time, Dick, were eating at a luncheonette. We had been in Europe for only about five days, but Dick was already feeling a bit homesick for some good ol’ American food staples, like Cheetos, Twinkies, and Del Taco.
The tension had been building for a day or so, but its breaking point came when Dick got the salad he ordered. The plate consisted of a small pile of lettuce, a wedge of tomato, a dollop of mayo, and 1/4 of a hard-boiled egg. At the time in Ireland, this was salad; ranch dressing didn’t exist in Ireland (I’m not sure if it does now, either, come to think of it) and salad didn’t figure prominently at any restaurant. But Dick had had enough of European cuisine. When the dish was set in front of him, the tiger was unleashed: “This isn’t a fucking salad! I’m so sick of this shit! I want a real salad with ranch and I want a goddamn hamburger! What kind of backward-ass country doesn’t know how to make a salad?!?” Obviously from this, anyone can see no reason at all why Europeans might call Americans pushy. I mean, Dick was right, wasn’t he? He was just being (an) honest Dick and Ireland should be honored to receive such eloquent advice.
Holy mother I cannot even begin to express my mortification in that luncheonette. We ended up ditching him in Paris at the first opportunity and that did not serve me well when I came back to my job two months later. Yet the gods close one door to open others, and this whole story needs to lead up to a Chicken Caesar salad recipe, somehow. I suppose it reminds me that salads for dinner are an American creation. Do I daresay a California invention? I’m not sure. Regardless, the Chicken Caesar salad reigns king of the American dinner salads.
The reason this recipe kicks ass is simply due to the dressing. I got it from a book called Glorious Italian Cooking by Nick Stellino, and even people who don’t care for Caesar salads have opened up to mine and have been titillated.
Lastly, don’t be afraid of the anchovy used in the dressing. It gives a salty flavor and that’s about it, and if there is someone who hates even a hint of a fishy taste, it’s me.
The Best Chicken Caesar Salad
4 anchovy fillets, or the equivalent amount of anchovy paste
6 whole, peeled garlic cloves
6 tbsp. low-fat mayonnaise
4 tbsp. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 tbsp. olive oil
Put all of the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor and process it until it’s smooth. Open the feed tube and add the olive oil slowly in a steady stream while the motor is running. This will make the dressing creamy and beautiful. Scrape out the bowl and set it aside until you assemble the salad.
2 grilled chicken breasts, cubed (the pre-grilled chicken from the supermarket works too, but you’d be ghetto)
3 heads romaine lettuce, washed, drained well, and chopped up
2 cups of croutons (store bought or homemade) or parmesan goldfish crackers (don’t knock it until you try it)
1 cup shredded parmesan
freshly ground black pepper
In a giant bowl, toss all of the ingredients together until everything until everything is well coated with the dressing. Divide this amongst four big salad bowls and serve, like this:
I am of the opinion that, when you taste this dressing, you’ll never buy Caesar in a bottle again.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013