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proper chicken caesar salad

June 10, 2008

Ever since our kitchen reno, I have become obsessed with Jamie Oliver.   First, instead of fish sticks,  I’m cooking trout with their heads still intact.  I’m growing a little herb garden and happily snipping off herbs for meals.  I go through dozens of lemons every week.  I have a package of bacon handy because Jamie likes to wrap things in bacon.  I’m touching raw meat and mixing things up with my hands.  I buy my meat from the butcher and my fish from the fishmonger.  He has totally transformed the way that I cook.  It is a bit weird.

Tonight’s planned meal was thin crust pizza and caesar salad.  Somewhere in the back of my head, I could hear Jamie’s voice, begging me:  Do not buy that prepackaged caesar salad.  I can show you a better way.

So I spent the afternoon preparing a proper chicken caesar salad.  Pictured above is the pan with the dredges of homemade croutons with rosemary, chicken drumstick bits and (yes) bacon.  I mashed up anchovy fillets with garlic and made a dressing with creme fraiche. 

I think I’m possessed.

Proper chicken caesar salad – Jamie Oliver

Serves 4 to 6

With my own versions of the classics, like Caesar salad, it’s not about changing things entirely; it’s about respecting the original while bigging up the flavours and textures where I can. My twists for this salad are to use chicken legs (not dry old breasts), smoky pancetta and lovely rustic croutons to suck up all the juices. It’s a lovely little salad with just a hint of attitude – and it’s versatile, as you can serve it hot or cold.

PS Use your imagination – if you have any other unusual salad leaves, flowers or herb shoots lying around, chuck some in to make it look a little less predictable.


  • 4 whole free-range or organic chicken legs, skin on
  • 1 loaf of ciabatta bread (about 250g), torn into thumb-size pieces
  • 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped
  • olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 thin slices of pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
  • One quarter of a clove of garlic, peeled
  • 4 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained
  • 75g freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus a few shavings to serve
  • 1 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
  • the juice of 1 lemon
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 or 3 Cos or romaine lettuces, outer leaves discarded

    Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Place your chicken legs in a snug-fitting roasting tray with the pieces of torn-up bread. Sprinkle with the chopped rosemary, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to make sure everything is well coated, then lift the chicken legs up to the top, so they sit above the bread. This way, the bread will soak up all the lovely juices from the chicken, giving you the best croûtons. Pop the tray into your preheated oven.

    After 45 minutes the chicken should be nicely cooked. Take the tray out of the oven, drape the pancetta or bacon over the chicken and croûtons, and put back into the oven for another 15-20 minutes for everything to crisp up. Your chicken legs are ready when you can pinch the meat off the bone easily. When they’re cooked, remove the tray from the oven and put it to one side for the chicken to cool down slightly.

    Pound the garlic and anchovy fillets in a pestle and mortar or a Flavour Shaker until you have a pulp. Scrape into a bowl and whisk in the Parmesan, crème fraîche, lemon juice and three times as much extra-virgin olive oil as lemon juice. Season your dressing to taste.

    Pull the chicken meat off the leg bones – you can use two forks to do this, or your hands if you’re tough like me – and tear it up roughly with the croûtons and the bacon. Wash, spin dry and separate your lettuce leaves, tear them up and toss with the chicken, croûtons, bacon and creamy, cheesy dressing. Scatter with some Parmesan shavings.

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