Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cajun Chicken breast on Caesar Salad

This is a wonderful summer dish and a welcome respite from meat and potatoes in winter. You will need stale bread to make your croutons so buy a loaf of your favorite bread and make sandwiches for lunch.  If you don't have a favorite then try Alpine Bread, it makes a delicious sandwich and terrific croutons.  Get it in a paper bag too as this is ideal to keep croutons.  When the bread is a few days old cut the rest into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes and spread it out to dry.  When there is no more give to the cubes they are dry and can be put in the paper bag and stored in the cupboard in the open or loosely closed paper bag.

Cesar Salad dressing is an aioli with extras and an aioli is mayonnaise with garlic. Making mayonnaise was one of the things that drew me into cooking because such a delicious useful condiment turned out to be so easy to make. Mayonnaise is actually a sauce, an emulsion specifically, of egg yolk and oil.  The characteristic of an emulsion is that it will not separate when left to sit. If you add too much oil too fast it will not emulsify and it will separate when you stop stirring. 

Take two eggs out of the fridge about a half hour before you want to use them.  Warming them softens the shell making them easier to open. You only need one egg but I recommend having an extra on hand in case you screw up and need to rescue the mayonnaise. We will be using the egg raw and there can be harmful bacteria on the egg shell so before cracking the eggs immerse them in boiling water for 5 seconds then plunge them in cold water to stop them from cooking.  If some of the white has turned opaque you are leaving them in the water too long.

You need to separate the egg white from the yolk.  We won't be using the whites so I separate them into a  plastic tub and put them in the freezer till I have enough to make something. You can just dispose of them if you prefer. A chef will crack the egg into his hand to strain out the yolk.  I use the two halves of the shell.  There are also plastic yolk separators if you prefer.

One egg yolk is too little for an electric mixer to be effective so you must use and hand whisk to make this dressing. You can't keep this mayonnaise in the fridge because it is made from raw eggs and will spoil quickly so don't plan on making a big batch to last.

For this meal you need a skinless boneless chicken breast, a head of romaine lettuce, a chunk of Italian Parmesan cheese and a fine grater to freshly grate it. (don't buy grated, it doesn't have the same taste) You need extra virgin olive oil and other cooking oil.  Extra virgin olive oil has a distinct flavor that overwhelms the sauce if used alone, so mix it with your favorite cooking oil. For example commercial mayonnaise is made with canola oil which has almost no taste.

If you have a Greek or Mediterranean deli nearby you might be able to buy just one anchovy fillet.  If not buy a small tin.  The expensive ones taste so much better than the cheap ones that it is worth the extra $2 to buy the better ones. The fillets won't keep an extended time in the fridge but they are worth buying even if you don't use them all.

You can buy a Cajun spice mix if you don't want to invest in all the spices but you'll find you use a lot of it so it's much cheaper and more satisfying to make your own.  This Cajun Spice Mix I found at

Cesar Salad Dressing
1 egg yolk
less than 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
topped up to less than 1/2 cup with your cooking oil.
1 anchovy fillet
1 clove garlic
few drops Worcestershire Sauce
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup Italian Parmesan cheese (parmigiano-reggiano)
freshly ground black pepper

Cajun Spice Mix
 1/4 Cup of salt 
 2 Tbsp. cayenne pepper 
 2 Tbsp. paprika 
 1-1/2 Tbsp. onion powder 
 1 Tbsp. freshly ground black pepper 
 1 Tbsp. freshly ground white pepper 
 1 Tbsp. garlic powder 
 2 tsp. dried basil 
 1 tsp. chili powder 
 1/4 tsp. dried thyme 
 1/4 tsp. ground mustard 
 1/8 tsp ground cloves

To finish prepping take the outer papery leaves off the romaine lettuce and the tips too if they are papery.  Chop the rest up in 1 1/2 inch slices.  If this produces really long strips of lettuce then tear the longest ones in half, it's easier to eat. Put it all in a sink of cold water, swirl it around and put it in a salad spinner to dry it.  Turn the oven to 375 degrees and put a frying pan on a medium burner with a tablespoon of oil.  When the pan is hot put the croutons in and drizzle a little more oil around them. Add salt and pepper.   Keep adding oil when the pan is dry until the croutons have browned nicely all round. Turn the croutons out onto a plate to cool. The oven should be ready now.

Oil and/or season your chicken breast with the Cajun spice mix.  If you oil the breast first then use less spice because the salt will adhere better and over salt the meat quickly. Sear the chicken as before and pop it in the oven.  Again it will take about 25 minutes to cook and rest for 5 to 10. So you have 30 minutes to get the salad done.

Whip your egg yolk a couple of times to break it up.  Take your less than half cup of virgin olive and cooking oil mix and pour a teaspoon of it beside the yolk.  If you pour a tablespoon by mistake you won't be able to emulsify it, so take your time.  Whip the yolk and slowly pick up the oil into the yolk.  The more oil you have emulsified the stiffer the emulsion will become.  As it gets stiffer you can add more oil at a time but not too much or it will stop emulsifying.   When all the oil is gone you will have a nice stiff mayonnaise.

If it did not stiffen then it did not emulsify, you added too much oil too early. No amount of whipping will fix it.  Put your second yolk in another bowl and slowly add the broken sauce to it as for oil.  If you do it correctly the oil egg mixture will emulsify into the second yolk and you have rescued your sauce.

Add your finely chopped anchovy fillet, finely chopped or pressed fresh garlic, a few drops of Worcestershire Sauce, salt, pepper and the juice of half a lemon.  Whip this in till it is smooth and taste it.  If it needs more acid add some lemon juice.  If it's too sour, add some salt. When you have a nice delicious balance to your dressing, the chicken should be almost done.  Press a chicken breast, if the juice is a little bit pink put it back for another 5 minutes.  The juices will be clear when it's cooked. When the chicken is done take it out and put in on a clean cutting board to rest. 

Put the lettuce in your largest bowl and pour the dressing over it.  I find lifting from underneath to toss the salad works best.  Once the dressing is uniformly spread then add the croutons and toss them in.   Add the Parmesan cheese and toss again.  Serve on large plates.  The chicken should have rested enough, so make 3 or 4 diagonal slices not quite all the way through the meat.  Make sure you have your cutting board right beside the plate and slide your knife under the breast and transfer it to the center of the salad. Serve your Cajun Chicken Breast on Cesar Salad.

The Cajun spice mix is excellent on fish also so we have Cajun snapper on Cesar fairly often too. Cook the fish in a medium to medium high frying pan a few minutes each side. You watch the texture and color of the fish change as it cooks so you'll know when it's done. Fish is thinner so it doesn't need to rest as long.

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