Since it’s summertime, I figure now is probably a good time to share my dad’s most popular salad recipe. For as long as I can remember, chicken caesar salad as a meal has been a major even at my parents’ house, intended for celebrations and big family get-togethers. It was the meal I requested for my birthday dinner every year when I was growing up - and most years since, too. My birthday is next month, so I’ll wait until then to share the my dad’s recipes for homemade croutons and the cheesy garlic bread he pairs with this salad. There will be a lot of butter involved.
According to my dad, a man named Glen Coffey first taught him how to make a traditional caesar salad when he was 14 or 15 years old. Glen Coffey and his wife were best friends with my dad’s folks, the sort of friends who took family camping trips together in the summertime and taught each other’s kids how to cook. Until I started asking him about it, I had no idea my dad had been making caesar salad for 75% of his life.
It will come as no surprise, though, that my dad also once had a job as the captain of a team of food service professionals at a restaurant called Rafael’s, where he made caesar salads table side for his customers. He worked that job in addition to a regular 9 to 5 when I was a kid, but I have zero recollection of it. He told me about it over the phone last night as though it were something I should remember, but I think I was just too small. It’s consistent with what I’ve always known about my dad’s work ethic, though; he was never above doing any job to take care of his family, and I’ve always respected him for it. He’s a good dad.
Chicken Caesar Salad
Chicken (this marinade recipe is actually from my mom’s mom and my tiny baby niece's namesake, Vera Forte)
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of lemon juice
1/4 cup of water
2 teaspoons of salt
1/4 teaspoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 tablespoon of minced onion
1) Mix everything but the chicken together to combine, then add the chicken and marinate for at least 4 hours.
2) Grill the chicken, then slice it up for topping the salad.
2 heads of romaine lettuce cleaned and broken by hand - don’t cut it
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
2/3 cup of olive oil
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
1.5 inch squeeze of anchovy paste (Or if you really want to get fancy, mush anchovies in olive oil to make the paste yourself like my dad did when he was the team captain at Rafael's.)
1 clove of minced garlic
A "pfst" (pretty sure this is the same as a dash) of lemon juice
1) Combine everything but the lettuce and parmesan in a jar with a lid that screws on. Shake it an hour before dressing the salad, then several times before serving.
2) Sprinkle the parmesan over the lettuce.
3) Pour the dressing over the lettuce and toss it together.
4) Coddle an egg. My dad does this by placing an egg in a mug, running it under hot water for 3-5 minutes (of course, he just instinctively "knows" when it's done). The goal is to get the inside of the egg warm and sticky, then separate it and keep the yolk.
5) Beat the egg yolk, drizzle it over the salad, then toss the salad again.
6) Plate it up, throw some chicken in the mix, and eat yourself silly. It's salad. It's good for you.
One of my goals for 2014 is to write one “Have At It” post per month, to include a story from my dad’s life with one of his recipes. I figure if nothing else, it will give me some motivation to get serious about getting my dad’s stories down, even if I have to write them myself.
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