I have several versions of Caesar Salad on the blog, including one buried so far back in the archives, I even forgot about it. But somehow, my favorite of all favorites hasn’t been on the blog until now! While I know using the word ‘best’ seems like a bit or a reach, or even arrogant, I think I can explain. So just to clarify, this is the ‘best chicken caesar salad I’ve ever made or eaten anywhere ever’. And since everyone else I know loves it too, I figured you wouldn’t mind if I told you it was the ‘best’.
My husband loves Caesar Salad even more than I do, and sometimes where we go out to dinner is entirely based off whether or not they have Caesar Salad on the menu. But after years of taste testing so many Caesar Salads, he’s kinda given up because most of the time they’re a disappointment. And even in the best case scenario where he actually likes it, when I ask him how his salad is he’ll say, ‘it’s alright, but not nearly as good as yours’. Talk about a great compliment right!?!
So when it comes to Caesar Salad, we just eat it at home now, and it’s become our favorite ‘at home date night’ dinners. We make it pretty much every week, (unless we’re out of town) and it’s become our favorite night of the week. We both know exactly what our individual tasks are when we make this together, and we’ve made it so often that we don’t have to refer to a recipe.
Without having to worry about the timing of a new recipe, or trying and listen to the other person while reading a recipe, it takes all the stress out of cooking together. Since we make this so often, we can make it almost without having to think at all which leaves us free to chat, catch up, and just generally enjoy some time together.
It’s become something we both love and look forward to every week that I can’t recommend enough finding a recipe that you love enough to eat on repeat. It gives you the freedom to enjoy time with your spouse, friends, or family without having to second guess yourself in the kitchen. Another favorite recipe we bring out during the summer is my Balsamic Grilled Chicken with Caprese Salad – it’s super easy, and so good with summer tomatoes.
Tip: It’s best to toast pine nuts over low heat to keep them an even golden brown, (they taste bitter when they’re dark brown). It takes about 15-20 minutes on the stove top on low, or the similar amount of time in the oven at 250ºF. How long it takes to toast them will depend on the size of your pan, and the amount in it. My favorite pan to use is a 9″ cast iron skillet for even heating.
And since pine nuts now cost and arm and leg, here are some other crunchy options:
- If you can have bread (gluten free or otherwise) feel free to just make regular croutons. The method I used to use was to melt together butter and olive oil in a skillet, then add cubed or torn up bread, season with sea salt, and cook over medium heat until golden brown and crispy, but not rock hard.
- Polenta also makes absolutely incredible croutons. I first had them in San Fransisco, and I’ve been a huge fan ever since! To make polenta croutons: cube up leftover polenta that’s been refrigerated and is solid not soft, panfry in a mixture of olive oil and butter, season with sea salt, and cook until the sides are browned. (But seriously… these are so good I’ll make a note to get with the program, and produce and actual recipe!)
And now on to the dressing, aka ‘the best part’. This isn’t the most traditional dressing out there, but I think you’ll be won over by it’s incredible creaminess and depth of flavor. It comes together quickly in the blender, and since the blender does all the work, you don’t have to worry as much about getting the dressing properly emulsified.
The only tip I have here to make it fool proof, is to make sure you don’t put the salt or lemon juice into the blender, (touching the egg) until you know you’re ready to blend within 5 minutes. The reason for this is that both salt and lemon juice will break down the integrity of the egg and the dressing won’t be as thick and creamy. Or in the worst case scenario it won’t emulsify if they sit together too long before blending in the olive oil.
Romaine is always a the best and classic choice for a Caesar, but if you want to mix things up a bit, go ahead and grill your romaine for another fun variation.
For the grilled chicken, we alternate between chicken breasts and chicken thighs because we love both. In the most bitter of winter days, you’ll find us roasting a chicken instead of grilling, and I have a great recipe for Herb Roasted Chicken that’s wonderful with Caesar Salad if grilling isn’t your thing. But for the most part we prefer the flavor of grilled chicken, and you’ll find me outside grilling at -20ºF with a smile on my face knowing good things are coming to the table soon!
And for a final touch, grilling a halved lemon along with the chicken is a great garnish but also adds a more subtle lemon juice squeeze over the top of the finished salad.
With almost constant recipe testing, we don’t get to repeat a lot of things, but I hope you enjoy the recipe that is most often made in my kitchen. Since I never follow a recipe when I make this, I made sure to test it out 4 times last week, and weirdly enough I’d love to have it again for dinner tonight!
- 2 heads of romaine lettuce, 2 pounds 10 ounces
- 1 pkg boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, 1½ pounds
- ¾ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 farm fresh egg
- ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ Teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
- ½ Teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Begin by preheating a grill over high heat until it reaches a temperature of 450ºF.
- While the grill heats, place a 9" cast iron skillet over low or medium-low heat and toast the pine nuts until they're golden brown, shaking the pan every few minutes to rotate them, about 15-20 minutes total.
- When the grill is preheated, place the chicken breasts or thighs on the grill, and immediately lower the heat to medium-high, maintaining a temperature of 400º-450ºF. Chicken breasts will take 8-12 minutes per side and chicken thighs are usually 8-10 minutes, and then an additional 6-8 minutes after they've been flipped. The timing will vary a little every time depending on the thickness of the meat. If you're unsure, you can always cut 1 piece of meat in half to check and see if it's no longer pink in the center.
- While the chicken is grilling, cut the lettuce into bite sized pieces, and use a salad spinner to wash and dry it. Place it in a large salad bowl and set aside.
- When the chicken is done, remove it from the grill onto a plate to cool while you make the dressing.
- To make the dressing, add everything but the olive oil to a blender in the order listed. It's always best to crack the egg into a small bowl to check for bits of shell before adding it to the blender. Secure the lid and begin blending on a low speed just to combine. Turn the speed up to 2-3 on a Vitamix and begin adding the olive oil in a slow steady stream. When half of the oil has been added, increase the speed again to 4-5 and continue adding the oil slowly. When all the oil has been added, increase the speed again to 6-7 for about 15 seconds or until the dressing becomes thick and creamy.
- To serve, chop the chicken into bite sized pieces and add it the romaine along with the pine nuts, parmesan, and the dressing. Toss to combine and serve immediately for best flavor. We always have leftovers with just the 2 of us, and we take them for lunch the next day. It's not quite the same, but it's still pretty good.
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