Making Smitten Kitchen’s Caesar Salad With Tyler Florence’s Croutons

As I said in a few posts this week, it’s been hot in New York for a while, or at least it was for a while there. I tried coming up with salads and other meals that wouldn’t overheat the house or myself during prep. As I usually do when I have a vague cooking idea, I went over to SmittenKitchen.com and looked around for various salads. Her recipe for Caesar Salad sounded really interesting, especially because of the brined boneless chicken breasts used. I’m a big fan of Caesar when it comes to the salad family, that dressing is just so in line with what my taste buds love being slathered in, so I decided to give it a shot. Smitten’s recipe for the actual dressing can be found here. I didn’t see anything specific about the croutons, so I did a search on FoodNetwork.com and decided to go with Tyler Florence’s take.

This meal wound up taking more time to get together than I anticipated, but it wound up being well worth the time and energy. The first thing I got together was the brine for the chicken breasts. I’ve brined pork chops and our Thanksgiving turkey, so I was intrigued with the idea of going that route for simple chicken breasts.

Those stayed in the fridge for 15 minutes which gave me time to get the croutons and dressing together. The croutons were pretty simple. After setting your oven for 350 degrees, you rip up half your loaf of bread — I got a focaccia from the grocery store — and mix that up with some olive oil, Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper. Then spread that mixture on a (foil-covered) baking sheet and let the oven do its thing for 15 minutes. These guys came out so cheesey and crunchy that I could have eaten them as snacks. In fact, I did while waiting for everything to come together.

The dressing was a pretty simple measure-and-whisk operation. I took the easy way out going the mayonnaise and no anchovy route. For some reason, this version didn’t taste right to me in the beginning, but I ran it by my wife — a fellow fan of the Caesar salad — and she was happy with it, so I let it hang out in the fridge as I took out the chicken and got to work with that.

I cooked the breasts for about 7 minutes per side in one of our non-stick pans. I added some salt and pepper, the former of which was silly considering I had just brined them in salt water. Anyway, while those cooked, I cut up the lettuce and got that in the serving bowl along with the croutons. Once the breasts were done, I chopped them up, tossed them in the bowl and was ready to serve.

I’ve said this before in regards to making tomato sauce and perogies, but there’s just something far more satisfying about eating a complicated and/or time-consuming dish that you make with your own hands. Now, Caesar Salad is nowhere near as complex as those other two, but when you consider the fact that you can drive to pretty much any sandwich shop, diner or fast food place and get this meal in about 10 minutes, it does give a bit of a different perspective and far more appreciation for your food. So, yes, this was a good Caesar salad. The brined chicken had so much more flavor that I’m thinking about using this preparation whenever I have the extra time for dinner. Also, as I’ve mentioned several times already, Tyler Florence’s croutons were to die for. All mixed together, this was a dish that I will definitely be making again, hopefully with some farm fresh ingredients in the not too distant future.

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