Although I used to avoid it assiduously when I was younger, I can’t get enough of Caesar salad these days. If it’s made right, with parmesan and anchovies and olive oil, the dressing is unapologetically punchy, briny, potent, adult – the perfect counterpoint to the pleasant, slightly nutty flavour of the crisp Cos lettuce. There’s a lot going on texturally too, and it’s so comfortable in its bones that it can withstand any number of rejigs and modern treatments. The Chiltern Firehouse in London does a popular take on it that updates the anonymous white chicken and croutons into crispy chicken skin, melba toasts and great shards of cheese, for example; while Diana Henry recently suggested grilling the lettuce, noting that while this particular trend has already ‘jumped the shark in San Francisco’, if a thing ‘is worth doing, fashion shouldn’t dictate its demise’. She’s right – the flavour of the grilled lettuce is a revelation – sweet, savoury and more like lettuce than lettuce, and its richer flavour makes it a nice option for September, when there’s a definite chill in the air, but salad season hasn’t yet quite departed.
I decided to make a sharing-style Caesar salad the other day that would incorporate some of these new elements without straying too far from the original. To make it, I grilled the Cos lettuces for longer than I thought I should (on Diana’s advice), cut side down, leaving them till they wilted first, then caramelised slightly, then relented completely. I put out fresh crisp Cos leaves too; along with crunchy sourdough cubes, cooked in olive oil and salt; sweet garden peas; roast chicken and parmesan shavings, and served it all with a sour cream, anchovy, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil Caesar dressing. It was so good that I opened a bottle of wine to have with it.
GRILLED CAESAR SALAD
1 Cos lettuce
4 thick slices of bread, torn into rough chunks
For the dressing
125ml sour cream
1 cloves of garlic
2tbsp olive oil
1tsp of anchovy paste (or 4 small anchovies, finely diced)
2tbsp lemon juice
Salt & black pepper
Cut the Cos lettuces in half, brush with olive oil and salt and start grilling on a hot skillet. Don’t move it until it has wilted and has nice char marks. Start the bread cubes – rub with a halved garlic clove, toss in olive oil and salt and bake in a hot oven. Make the dressing by whipping all the ingredients together. Add some buttermilk if you want it to be a little slacker. Then put it all together however you like and open that bottle of wine.