The best chicken caesar salad I've ever had

Genius tricks and unconventional ingredients abound in Ali Slagle’s debut cookbook "I Dream of Dinner"

Published April 28, 2022 6:25PM (EDT)

Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Bobbi Lin / Food52)
Prop stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. (Bobbi Lin / Food52)

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The miracle of this marinade would have been enough. Stir together a few ingredients, pour off half for a feisty Caesar dressing and save the rest to marinate your chicken? Brilliant.

But then, don't let that marinade sit for hours to soak in. Don't even wipe any off. Just sizzle the chicken and its protective cloak in a nonstick skillet, till the oil breaks free from the marinade and the Parm and anchovy all frizzles and browns. This can only be described as Whoaaa.

Ali Slagle learned the power of mayonnaise-based marinades from her New York Times colleague J. Kenji López-Alt: Mayo browns beautifully, carries flavors well, and protects seasonings from burning (you can read all about it here). Next, Ali put the trick to use in a popular Ginger-Lime Chicken of her own.

But when faced with creating 150 dinner recipes for her debut cookbook "I Dream of Dinner," each done in 45 minutes and under 10 ingredients, Ali started dreaming about how to make that marinade do even more work.

"I always thought about it as wiggling loose teeth," Ali told me. "I would, in my mind, wiggle each ingredient and think, 'What would that dish be without it? Will it still be good?'"

So the marinade pulled double-duty as dressing, and Ali continued questioning every bottle and leaf, to make sure they all pulled their weight in efficiency and joy. Here's how the rest wiggled out, and changed what I thought a chicken Caesar salad could be.

The dressing players:

In addition to some of the punchy classics like lemon, anchovy, and garlic that define this salad's flavor as resolutely Caesar, Ali brings in some unexpectedly welcome characters.

Instead of Worcestershire sauce, which doesn't always justify the space it rents in the fridge door, Ali turns to more ubiquitous soy sauce for umami and well-rounded salt. She also adds Dijon mustard — "another prickly ingredient," she told me — and lemon zest, a freebie with the juice, for even more brightness.

The lettuce(s):

Inspired by Samin Nosrat's Caesar, Ali likes a mix of sweet, juicy lettuces like Romaine or Little Gems and bitter chicories like endive, escarole, or radicchio, to bring out more dimension and make a dinner salad as compelling as a multicourse meal.

She also sprinkles the greens with lemon juice and salt before dressing — yet another layer of blandness prevention.

The giant crouton: 

Ali starts her croutons in a skillet as big slices of fried toast, then cuts them bite-size. This frees us from the inevitable smaller crumbs that will start to smolder before the rest, and gives us a new crouton paradigm: crispy edges, yes, but also warm, fluffy middles.

And all of this thoughtfulness, all of this flavor, can take as little time as your favorite podcast. The marinade is still enough to make this recipe genius, but Ali has handed us many more miracles to take to our kitchens, too.

Recipe: Not Just Another Chicken Caesar Salad from Ali Slagle

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By Kristen Miglore

MORE FROM Kristen Miglore

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