Day 4. Thursdays. Always a tight timelines kinda day. True for most families most days. Glad for it. At this house, it means a quick and easy full-meal salad is on my radar: this makes it an easy decision.
From my couple of years working with Chef Stephen at Festival of Food preparing the hot lunches for kids at the local Waldorf School, I learned some cool tricks: how to portion and think of ingredients for big crowds, how to maximize all ingredients and reduce waste, how feeding people is really truly a privilege and something that requires you bring in the earth and sky into meals. I had many an interesting and thought-provoking discussion take place in that kitchen; I felt supported as I could explore what food means, how we prepare it and how it affects or alters the nutrition. I remember realizing that if you think about those for whom you are preparing the meal while you are making it, something in the food changes. As a food maker, I think of this often. And it is the best way I know how to fill my cup, and that of those around me. Stephen really played a big part in that discovery.
One of my favourite and most-oft revisited meals that I learned in that kitchen is the subject of today's salad. A nutrient-dense homemade caesar dressing. HENCE, I declare today a CHICKEN CAESAR SALAD DAY! This salad is perfect for every day of the week, hot or cold; I love the smooshy leftovers the next day; it is such a satisfying salad, you won't need much else on the table.
This recipe is an approximation. It's always a taste-and-tweak kind of thing. I'll be forever grateful to Stephen for teaching me the power of the tweak; perhaps the biggest and best thing I learned while hanging in that kitchen. So when I say GO PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD, I mean go tweak! Adjust! Add new things! Swap out others! Really, go play with your food! Make it your own!
First and foremost, let's talk eggs. You will get other stuff ready in a moment. But for now, take out 2 eggs for your caesar dressing, and let them rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Room temp yolks will emulsify much better than cold yolks.
In the meantime, you will want to prepare your croutons. These are optional; if grain-free is your speed these days, swap these out for crumpled kale chips.
Croutons are more an idea than a recipe. We were three for supper tonight, so I cut into cubes 3 slices of true sourdough bread (yay traditionally made breads!) I had in the freezer from local lovelies Watermill Bakery. I drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and ground pepper, and popped in a preheated oven at 325F for 10 minutes, took it out, flipped the croutons, and popped it in for another 5 minutes. This way, they were crusty on the outside and chewy on the inside. Yum. I let those cool on the counter until time to assemble the salad.
Now comes the caesar dressing. This is a tricky beast, one that requires complete connection to the ground in order for it to emulsify. So make sure your feet are planted firmly first, that you have a rolled towel around your bowl to cradle that dressing, and nary a thought on your mind. Everyone's talking about mindfulness these days; this is my kind of mindfulness.
CAESAR DRESSING Adapted from Chef Stephen Gilmour
2 egg yolks, at room temperature (from pastured eggs only; conventionally-raised eggs have a higher possibility of food poisoning from salmonella. Virtually non-existent with pastured birds.)
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
few splashes of hot sauce (I used my homemade fermented hot sauce (YEA!))
few pinches of sea salt
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp mustard (oh yes, this was also a fermented mustard I made at a class a while back) -- this helps ensure emulsification
Add all of your ingredients in a big enough bowl. In a separate measuring cup, measure out 1 cup of a good quality olive oil. Roll up a tea towel and nestle the mixing bowl on this towel roll. With a steady hand, and a clear mind (I'm being serious), use your wire whisk to slowly start incorporating the ingredients together. Think of it as if you are introducing the ingredients to one another. Once you feel like the groove is set, and you're ready to bring it to the next level, start with a very slow drizzle of olive oil, all while still continuing to gently whisk. This is not something you want to rush; trust that it will work. Drizzle that olive oil very slowly for about 10 seconds, and then stop the drizzle but continue to whisk. Once the oil has emulsified (that sheen off the top now becomes a dull colour), start the olive oil drizzle again, continuing on with the whisking. When you are about halfway through the olive oil drizzle, take a bit of time to make sure it is emulsifying properly, meaning there will not be an oil slick on top. The dressing will start pulling at the sides in the bowl. It's really quite a beautiful alchemy kind of thing happening. If the oil appears to be separating and that sheen is still there on the top, this means it isn't emulsifying and you will want to start over with a new yolk in a new bowl, adding another 1/2 tsp of mustard. The stuff you just whisked together (unsuccessfully) can now be introduced EVEN SLOWER this time into the new yolk/mustard mix.
Once all of your olive oil is emulsified into golden-y goodness, taste it and tweak it. Need deeper taste? Add worcester. Needs more zing? Add lemon. Want a bigger kick? Add hot sauce. You are in the driver's seat. Make that dressing sing, baby.
Now, you could be done this dressing. But if you were me, you'd figure out a way to ferment it. IF THIS STEP IS DONE A FEW HOURS BEFORE YOUR MEAL, you're in luck! You can add some whey to the mixture! (Whey is the clear-ish liquid that is strained off of a plain yogurt.) Powdered whey will not work here. If you have whey, go ahead and add 2 tbsp of whey to the mix, whisking it in. This will help preserve it, and add probiotics in the meantime. Let it sit max on the counter for 6 hours; after that, make sure to tuck it in the fridge. If fermenting ain't your thing, don't sweat it; it is still delicious and nutrient-dense.
CHICKEN (or any other protein you want to add, really.) - for 3 people
3 chicken breasts or 5 chicken thighs, cubed into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp of solid cooking fat (I use leftover fat from cooking bacon from happy pigs)
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp coriander seed, ground
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
sea salt & pepper
Heat your pan. Melt the fat. Cook the meat or protein until it's golden. Add your spices. Cook until cooked through. (See, I just don't wax nostalgic about the chicken like I do that dressing. Oh but that dressing!)
ASSEMBLING YOUR SALAD
Think 1/2 romaine lettuce heart per person, chopped into bite size pieces and washed, spun dry
Throw the lettuce, along with your croutons, cooked chicken and shaved parmesan or asiago cheese (or forego the cheese if you're breaking up with dairy these days) in a bowl. Add your dressing until every morsel is bathed. Did I mention the dressing is the best part? *You may not need the whole batch of dressing; save the remainders in the fridge, where it should keep for up to 4 days. Now eat up, will ya?
Thanks to Chef Stephen Gilmour for graciously saying 'SURE!' when I asked if I could share his recipe, along with my tweaks. Link to his website below. Check him out, he serves delicious lunches from scratch, is a fabulous caterer, and also prepares ready-to-go fully cooked meals for busy families. And thanks to the fine folks at Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farms for providing me and my family with fresh eggs for the last few years. Those yolks! And thanks to my photographer Eliza.