Monday, May 13, 2013
Bacon Chicken Caesar Salad
Before my parents moved up to the lake, I used to spend my vacation time in New England on Cape Cod with my aunt, uncle and little cousins. It's a shame that it's becoming harder and harder to squeeze in any time on the Cape now that I've moved further away and my job doesn't have the flexibility of my college internships. I miss lobster rolls, my daily serving of incredible ice cream, and especially my Aunt's Chicken Caesar Salad (which she got from Jamie Oliver). So with the first bit of what felt like summer last week, I was craving this salad for dinner.
Obviously I didn't quite think through the fact that having our oven on 400 for 2 hours on the first day when Chicago had temperatures over 80 was probably not the best idea I'd ever had. But when I got home from yoga and this salad was done, I didn't even care that I was sweating bullets. I was transplanted to a summer day on the Cape when I could still carry my littlest cousin to the beach and when she saw me her face lit up like I was Santa Claus. Nowadays I just get pictures of her wearing high heels and makeup. Sigh.
There are a couple of things to note about this salad. The first is that this is not a "look I'm on a diet so I'm eating salad for dinner" salad. You just let a loaf of bread soak up chicken fat and bacon grease for 2 hours and then ate it. Don't kid yourself. On a side note, these are literally the best croutons in the entire world.
If you do burn them a little bit because you turn the broiler on and then get distracted doing something important like studying for med school finals (I'm not saying that the Monkey Scientist burned all of the croutons while I was at yoga or anything like that), try to salvage them and just cut off the charred bits. They'll be just fine as long as you didn't burn the whole thing!
The second is anchovies. Yes, I know you're scared. Yes, they smell like cat food (and look like it once you mash them up). No, they aren't something I want on my pizza. But this is Caesar salad folks. And without anchovies, it just isn't Caesar dressing. I promise they won't taste like cat food once you drown them in olive oil, creme fraiche, and lemon juice. Just trust me on this one, OK? On the bright side, who knew that a can of anchovies cost barely more than a dollar? I don't even feel that bad that I threw the rest of the can away (because what the heck was I going to do with leftover anchovies).
Now when I say this is my favorite Caesar salad ever, I'm not joking. The dressing is creamy and delicious. The croutons soak up all that fat, get crispy in the oven, and then when you put the dressing on them they soak it up and become chewable without destroying your teeth. Again, best croutons in the world. I enjoy the baked, dark meat chicken on this about 1000 times more than the rubbery slices of grilled chicken breast you get anywhere else. Although my aunt actually uses bone-in, skin on chicken breasts and it works great, too. And despite the fact that the roommate made a side of pasta, I stand by the fact that this salad is a solid meal. Even the Monkey Scientist had it for his whole dinner. It's worth every minute of sweltering over the oven.
Bacon Chicken Caesar Salad
slightly adapted from Jamie Oliver
4-6 chicken legs, skin on
1 round loaf sourdough bread (about 9 ounces), chopped into 1.5" cubes
6 slices bacon
3 tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
1 large head romaine lettuce, chopped
1 clove peeled and smashed garlic
4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
3 oz freshly grated Parmesan, plus a few shavings to serve
1 heaped tbsp creme fraiche
1 lemon, juiced (about 2 oz)
Extra-virgin olive oil (about 6 oz)
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. In a large glass baking dish, lay out the cubed bread, then bacon, then chicken legs. Drizzle with about 3 tbsp (or more) olive oil and sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt, black pepper, and chopped rosemary. Toss to coat evenly.
3. Bake at 400 degrees F for 25-35 minutes, or until the chicken can easily be peeled off the bone. Remove the chicken, and toss the bacon and croutons. Make sure to leave all the fat drippings from the chicken and bacon in there. The croutons will soak that up and that's what makes them delicious! Return to the oven and allow to bake until the croutons and bacon are crispy but not burnt, tossing every 5-10 minutes or as necessary. If this isn't happening at 400 degrees F, turn the broiler on low, but watch carefully as the croutons could start to burn quickly!
4. When the chicken has cooled slightly, use your hands or two forks to peel off the skin and discard, then peel the meat off the bones and shred. Chop the crispy bacon into bite size pieces.
5. Add the lettuce, chicken, croutons, and bacon to a large salad bowl.
6. Assemble the dressing: Using a mortar and pestle (or in my case, a small bowl and the handle of a lemon reamer), smash the anchovies and garlic into a thick paste. Whisk in the grated Parmesan, creme fraiche, juice of 1 lemon, and 3 times as much extra-virgin olive oil as lemon juice.
7. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat evenly. Serve with a few Parmesan shavings on top.