Well, it’s definitely summer in Greece! With the weather being so hot and with all the fresh summer veggies returning to the market stalls, salads have become a big part of our meal routines.
The classic Caesar salad is one of those dishes that often leaves me a little disappointed when I order it somewhere. While it is supposed to be a rather simple but delicious salad with not too many ingredients, some establishments seem to make it a point to make this salad as boring as possible. Punish the fool that wanted to order such a simple salad! There’s nothing more disappointing than when the salad comes to your table in an unflattering plastic bowl, only consisting of some hard croutons, limp lettuce, dry pieces of chicken breast and a rather bland dressing. But should a dish that generally consists of romaine lettuce and croutons dressed with a mixture of oil, egg, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and maybe some anchovies, always taste that bland and boring? Surely not.
I know that the original recipe for Caesar salad did not contain anchovies and definitely didn’t incorporated capers – the briny flavor came from the use of Worcestershire sauce – but I believe adding these two ingredients together with lots of Parmesan cheese brings out that rich, savory depth that I look for in a nice salad dressing.
It’s not only bland dressings I seem to have a problem with, though. While the large amount of crunchy croutons may be enough for some to feel fulfilled and full, it’s not uncommon to find a Caesar salad with some grilled chicken, or chicken breast on top to turn the salad into a hearty meal. While I do not oppose to adding protein to the salad to make it more substantial, I have a confession to make: I am not the biggest fan of boneless, skinless chicken breasts… whenever I am served a piece of skinless chicken, I always imagine the cook secretly eating the lovely, crispy skin (the best part!) and leaving me with the often-dry boring remnants (I have many issues ha!).
Which is why instead of grilled chicken breast I add some shredded grilled chicken thighs, the meat of which is a lot juicier while the little pieces of crispy skin add an extra dimension of texture and flavor. Because, let’s be honest: this salad full of Parmigiano-Reggiano and – as is the case here – mayonnaise was never going to be one of the healthiest options anyway, right? Might as well add some nice juicy chicken thigh.
Because the cooking of the chicken legs does take a little waiting time, my recipe does not call for making your own mayonnaise, or adding egg yolks to emulsify the dressing. Rather, I use ready-made mayonnaise and serve soft-boiled eggs right on top of the salad. I like my dressings to be quick and easy, but I did not want to lose the richness of a good egg yolk either. Plus, it’s always so satisfying to watch the orange-y, runny yolk seeping out and covering the croutons and lettuce leaves with a lovely, golden hue.
It may not totally be the quickest way to make a Caesar salad (you could leave out the eggs and chicken if you’d like), but I personally think this version is my favorite. Inauthentic? Totally. Satisfying and delicious? For sure!
Chicken Thigh Caesar Salad
- ½ medium loaf of crusty white bread
- 2 large chicken legs, or 4 small chicken thighs
- 4 eggs
- 1 - 2 heads of lettuce (romaine, or something like it), leaves separated
- 4 tbsp olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon extra to drizzle on the chicken
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Salt to taste
- For the dressing:
- 6 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 garlic clove
- 8 anchovies from a tin
- 70g Parmesan, finely grated
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice, or white wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons cold water
- Preheat your oven to 180°C. Take your chicken legs and rub with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook the chicken in your preheated oven for about 30 - 40 minutes, depending on the size of the legs. When your chicken is done cooking, take it out of the oven and set aside to cool a little. When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove meat from bones and shred slightly.
- While your chicken is in the oven, fill a saucepan with water and bring to a boil. When the water is boiling, carefully add the eggs. Boil the eggs to your liking: about 6 minutes for a runny yolk, or 8 minutes for hardboiled. Chill eggs under running cold water, peel, and set aside.
- To make the dressing, start by finely grating 70g of parmesan cheese. Combine the mayonnaise, garlic clove, anchovies, capers, lemon juice, water, and the grated parmesan in a food processor until the mixture is relatively smooth (there may be some small chunks). If you do not own a food processor, start by smashing the garlic clove, capers and anchovies with a pestle and mortar. Add the liquid ingredients and mayonnaise and finally stir in the grated parmesan cheese.
- Finally, make the croutons by cutting ½ a loaf of crusty bread into bite-size pieces and tossing them with 4 tablespoons of olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt. Heat a large frying pan on medium to high heat. Add the pieces of bread and fry until they start browning and turn crunchy. Take pan off the heat and set aside.
- When your chicken, eggs, dressing and croutons are done, it’s time to start assembling your salad. Cut larger lettuce leaves into pieces and place on a plate, or in a salad bowl. Leave the smaller leaves intact. Add shredded chicken and croutons to the lettuce and toss slightly. Halve, or quarter your eggs and arrange on top of the lettuce, crouton, chicken mixture. Drizzle the dressing on top. To serve, shave some extra parmesan on top (optional).