Listen: sometimes the key to both winning and influencing someone doesn’t have to be grandiose. Sometimes you can achieve this effect by simply making them the best Caesar salad of life with grilled cheese croutons. Yes, grilled cheese croutons. As a former hater-of-croutons in any salad situation I was somewhat sceptical of this phenomenon until I went to Romer’s, an amazing burger restaurant that I can see from my balcony (a nice juxtaposition with the mountains and the ocean) where I had them served with some tomato soup and thus proceeded to fall in love again with all things grilled cheese.
I’ve chosen an egg yolk based Caesar salad dressing here, maybe it’s the citrine yellow of the yolk but there’s something about this type of dressing that seems to carry the lemony brightness into the salad more effectively than a creamier dressing. It’s important to have a good sharp cheese for the croutons so that they can really hold their own against the dressing; I recommend an aged Cheddar, Manchego, Fontina, or Gouda (the older the better.) French bread is ideal for the croutons because you can cut the bread into small rounds and then just quarter them once the grilled cheese has set.
How to Win Friends and Influence People Salad (with Grilled Cheese Croutons):
For the Salad:
1 head of romaine lettuce, washed, dried, and then torn into salad-size pieces
3 egg yolks
3 Tbsp. olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 clove of garlic, finely grated
A few drops of Worchester sauce
1/2 cup of finely shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano (or Asiago)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)
1. Begin by whisking the egg yolks together in a bowl until they achieve a pale yellow hue. Very slowly, begin adding the oil while continuing to whisk the egg yolks; it is very important to take your time with this step as you are essentially making a mayonnaise as your dressing platform.
2. Once the oil has all been added and the mixture is glossy and quite thickened you can add the rest of your dressing ingredients. Make sure that you taste after half of the lemon juice has been added, personally I can’t get enough of the tart lemon taste but you might like this dressing slightly less citrusy. I like to reserve a few tablespoons of the Parmesan to sprinkle on top of the salad, but throw it all in if you’re so inclined.
3. Set the dressing aside while you make the grilled cheese croutons.
For the grilled cheese:
About a half a loaf of French bread (although please feel free to experiment with whatever bread you would like)
Thinly sliced Old Cheddar, Gouda, Manchego, Fontina, etc. (something sharp is the goal here)
Melted butter (unsalted)
1. Slice your loaf of bread very thinly, about a half a centimetre if you can manage it (although I didn’t use one with this project, I do know that an electric knife is WONDERFUL if you need to slice bread thinly and accurately.)
2. Using a pastry brush cover each slice of bread in the melted butter on both sides.
3. Form small sandwiches with the cheese and the bread; make sure that the cheese is also sliced thinly, I like to use a cheese plane to simply scrape off pieces of cheese instead of trying to cut uniformly thin pieces.
4. Heat a pan or griddle over medium heat for a few minutes and then pour any remaining melted butter in to coat the bottom. Place the sandwiches in the pan carefully and toast for a few minutes on each side, be watchful as the time needed can vary greatly.
5. Once the sandwiches are done let them rest on a cutting board for at least ten minutes, this will prevent the croutons from coming apart once they have been tossed into the salad. Once they are set, slice them into crouton-sized pieces and add to the Romaine lettuce.
6. Drizzle the dressing over the salad making sure to coat everything in a fine lemony gloss and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan before bringing to the table.
When I make food like this, food that requires patience and lots of small steps, I like to listen to something that will keep me serene and focused. Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is perfect, and although some would argue overplayed, it has some sort of nostalgic effect on me that instantly makes me feel calm. I don’t know why but this album goes so well with practically any quiet mood; it also makes me almost able to smell summer in Ontario. When I was a teenager I listened to this album almost every single night for a whole summer, my bed was right under the wide-open window and that sense of being a part of something large in my small bedroom has always stayed with me.
Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches (Alternate Take)