caesar salad: veni, vidi, vici.

julius caesar.  the emperor, the legend, the man.  he was a politician, a general, a passionate lover, and a poet.  he conquered gaul, unified the roman empire, and was murdered by a bunch of guys in togas.

he was a man of many great titles and impressive deeds.  but the question remains: was he a chef?  and if he wasn’t, just who is behind the deliciousness that is caesar salad?

long story short, the inventor of the caesar salad was not julius caesar.  in fact, the idea that caesar somehow found the time to mix together one of the most iconic salads in the world couldn’t be farther from the truth.  the caesar salad doesn’t even have anything to do with rome, greece, or the mediterranean (unless you consider a few of its ingredients, but i think that is a bit of a stetch).  it was supposedly first mixed in 1924, almost two thousand years after our good friend julius caesar had shuffled off his mortal coil.

the man (allegedly) responsible for the first caesar salad was none other than caesar cardini, an italian-american immigrant and notable restauranteur.  his brother alex cardini, who also claims to have invented the salad (along with a slew of other staff members at caesar’s myriad restaurants), is noted for having included anchovy, which caesar’s recipe did not originally contain.

according to caesar’s daughter, a one rosa cardini, the original caesar salad included coddled egg, worchestershire sauce, romaine lettuce, croutons, lemon juice, olive oil, and black pepper.

suffice to say, i guess i’m a rule breaker, because i (along with most people who make caesar salads now adays) don’t really use any of those ingredients except for croutons and black pepper.

i tend to qualify almost any salad that contains “caesar dressing” as a caesar salad.  although i must admit, i am a firm believer that in order for a salad to be qualified as a caesar salad, it must contain croutons.  caesar cardini might be rolling in his grave while i write this post, but alas, i never was one to be tethered by traditions.

here’s my take on a classic.

poor man’s caesar salad

you’ll need:

  • japanese spider greens
  • one tomato
  • a cucumber
  • daikon sprouts
  • a chicken breast (boneless and skinless)
  • garlic powder
  • basil
  • hot pepper
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • caesar dressing
  • garlicy croutons
  • half an onion
  • enough oil to do some frying

garlicy croutons

  1. get out that knife and take that bread down a few pegs.  the key to really good croutons is having the right bread and making sure it isn’t soft and fresh and tasty anymore.  french bread works perfectly, although on occasion i have used italian instead.  the natural hardness and low density of french bread makes it fry up quickly and evenly.  cut the bread into cubes (however large you like, i tend to make them pretty small) and set them aside.
  2. heat about one or two inches of oil in a frying pan or deep pot.  once the oil gets reasonably hot (make sure it isn’t smoking), drop in one or two pieces of bread and make sure they start to sizzle right away.
  3. if everything looks good, add a few handfuls of bread, making sure that they form only a single layer on top of the oil.  once they have reached your desired level of brownness, put them on a plate with a few layers of paper towels.  quite a bit of oil will come off them, so make sure to replace the paper towels time and again.
  4. while the croutons are still hot, give them a generous sprinkling with garlic powder, black pepper, a little bit of fine salt, and any other spice you think will work nicely.  shake them around a little bit to make sure the spices distribute evenly.
  5. continue to fry the bread in batches until you are all finished, remembering to season them while hot.
  6. eat these as a snack or set them aside to perch atop your caesar salad.

the salad

IMG_0884

  1. cut your chicken breast into managable tenders.  i like to butterful a single large breast and then cut it into four long pieces.  once sliced, sprinkle it liberally with black pepper, salt, garlic powder, basil, and a little bit of hot pepper.  add a splash of oil to a frying pan and add the chicken once it reaches medium high heat.  cook the chicken on medium high heat for about four minutes (or until it has browned to your liking), then give it a flip.  give this side another five minutes.  take the chicken out of the pan, check for doneness, and then set it on a plate in the fridge to chill and reabsorb its delicious juices.
  2. rinse your green veggies.  cut the base off the daikon sprouts.  cut the cucumber at a 45° angle to create very thin, long disks.  set them aside with the daikon sprouts.  cut the spider greens into one inch lengths and place them on a plate (making sure to evenly distribute the stems and the leaves).
  3. peel the onion and slice it paper thin.  the goal is for each slice to be transparent.
  4. cut the top and bottom off of the tomato and dice it.  you can dice it as small or as large as you like.  take care not to squeeze all the juices out while you cut.  a very sharp knife will help you pull off such a seemingly impossible task.
  5. get your chicken out of the fridge and cut it into very thin slices.  remember, working with the grain and using a sharp knife will prevent your chilled chicken from turnin into a fine powder while you slice it.
  6. lastly, assemble the salad.  layer cucumber, sprouts, onion, chicken, diced tomato, and garlicy croutons on top of the spider greens in that order.  top it all off with a generous splash of caesar dressing.
  7. serve it up fresh.  this sald is awesome with some super easy sandwiches.  i like to pair leftover veggies with some strained yogurt and make something akin to tea sandwiches.  a few of those badboys, a small dish of olives, and a few cold cuts or sausages can make this salad a huge (and very very fresh) hit.

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