Regardless of where you happen to live in the United States, you can always count on Caesar salad being on a menu nearby. The restaurant may be top dollar or a humble diner, but this ubiquitous salad prevails in every region and at every price point.
There are many things to love about Caesar salad, but here are my top three:
- !t's a great vehicle for any protein—chicken, steak, shrimp, salmon, fried oysters, you name it—or delicious on its own.
- It can be served as a side dish or an entrée.
- It takes very few ingredients to make.
Its versatility as well as its inherent deliciousness make Caesar salad a universally-adored dish... but don't run out to your favorite restaurant just yet! The best Caesar salad you'll ever have is a homemade one—and the secret lies in grilling it.
First things first: yes, you can grill lettuce. And romaine lettuce is an especially good type of lettuce to grill; it has a high amount of natural sugar that caramelizes along the grill marks. Grilled romaine lettuce has a smoky crispiness that makes it worthy of a snack on its own.
As for the protein you choose to add to your salad (I'll be using chicken in this guide), grilling is a no-brainer for better-tasting meat. The char created on any protein via grill cooking is heavenly, thanks to the Maillard reaction.
If you're into croutons (and let's be honest—who isn't), skip the dried out store-bought version and toss a slice of bread on the grill. The charred edges will provide the crispiness necessary to cut into cubes, without needing to dry out the entire slice of bread.
So as you can see, the grill perfectly enhances Caesar salad and takes it from "good" to "absolutely freaking delicious."
Without further ado, let's make some salad!
- 1 head romaine lettuce
- 1 chicken breast (or protein of your choice)
- 1 slice of white bread or Texas toast (thick slice)
- 1/8 cup of Parmesan cheese
- 2 Tbsp. Caesar dressing
- olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
Season your chicken breast with salt and pepper, to taste. (I highly recommend adding my marinade and letting it sit for half an hour first to kick up the flavor.)
First of all: a charcoal grill is recommended, but a propane or indoor grill will do.
As your grill is slowly rising to the necessary temperature to grill your protein, you can use it for the other ingredients that you'll be grilling. Let's start with the most delicate, which is romaine.
Cut the romaine hearts in half, lengthwise. Sprinkle olive oil on and lightly season with salt and pepper, to taste. Grill for one minute on each side, just enough to see the char and grill marks. Set aside in a cool, dry place.
Now, let's grill the bread. Drizzle olive oil on both sides of the bread, then grill for 1-2 minutes on each side until you've reached your desired level of toasting.
Your grill should be hot enough to cook your protein now. Place your seasoned chicken breast on the grill and cook approximately 5-6 minutes on each side.
Be sure to cook chicken breast thoroughly; to check if the inside is completely cooked, poke a hole in the center of the breast and press down lightly. If the juices run clear, then your chicken is finished cooking.
The key to any great salad is not needing lots of dressing. Too much salad dressing limits the flavor profile, leaving every bite tasting the same... and almost as if you're eating a big bowl of veggies and dip. (I love a great crudité, but that's not why we're here.)
With that in mind, we'll only be using 2 Tbsp. of dressing for this salad—feel free to add more if dressing is your thing, but I recommend trying it with less first, so you can appreciate the individual grilled flavors of each part of the salad.
Add 1/8 cup Parmesan cheese to your dressing and stir to mix. The sharpness of the cheese will enhance the flavors of the dressing and add texture. It will also ensure that your Parmesan is distributed more evenly throughout your salad.
Chop your Romaine leaves if you'd like; it's also okay to leave them whole and serve them as-is. Then, cut the bread into cubes. I recommend using a knife with serrated edges, if possible. Top the salad with slices of your grilled chicken breast, then drizzle the Parmesan and salad dressing on top. (Be sure to taste your components before adding the dressing. You won't need much, and don't want to overwhelm your dish.)
That looks like a damn good salad... and all you added to the original formula was the use of your grill!
Now that you know the secret to making an amazing Caesar salad, you can apply the use of a grill to a lot of different kinds of salads—a summery salad with grilled lettuce, grilled peaches, and a light vinaigrette sounds amazing, for example. Or, you can simply choose to grill the lettuce and add it to an old favorite, like Cobb salad or a ginger Asian salad. The possibilities are endless... and absolutely delicious.