Dinner Rush! Seared Lemon Caesar Salad

Now that we’re a fresh and free-wheeling three weeks into the New Year, it’s clear that you’re doing everything right. You’re hitting the gym, drinking less, sleeping better and pounding back salads for lunch like it’s your job. Right? Three out of four? Really it’s that last part that’s cause for most concern.

There’s a pandemic of bad dressings out there, and Caesar seems to be the hardest hit. Of course not everything from the store shelves or restaurant kitchens is bad but, like many things in this life, if you want something done right you gots to do it yourself. Be not afraid, kitchen commandos, of what looks on paper like a flirtation with disaster and halitosis. The combination of raw garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon, cheese and a raw egg yolk (you’ll be fine; I promise) produces something fresh and magical that’s tough to replicate in a bottle. Give it a go; you’ll see what I mean.

And while we’re on the subject, let’s just say what we’re all thinking: the idea of a crouton is pure divinity. Wrestling with a 1-inch cube of stale, dry herb-coated, roof-of-your-mouth shredding bread is, in a word, not. Enter the crispy bits. Making your own crunchy salad topping by toasting coarsely chopped fresh bread is the only way to go. They’re crunchy; they’re chewy; they actually fit in your mouth; and “salad topping” is just the tip of their iceberg.

Seared Lemon Caesar Salad
Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 8 minutes
Cook Time: 12 minutes
Level: Easy

For the crispy bits:
6 slices white or sourdough bread
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lemon, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Pinch red pepper flakes
Salt and ground black pepper

For the dressing:
6 anchovy fillets
1 small clove garlic
1 large egg yolk
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiaino-Reggiano
Salt and ground black pepper
2 heads romaine lettuce, coarsely torn
Shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for serving, optional

To prepare the crispy bits, coarsely tear the bread slices apart and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the machine several times until the bread is coarsely chopped (the crumbs will vary in size between as fine as cornmeal and as large as an almond); reserve. Place a large sauté pan over medium-heat with the olive oil. Add the lemon slices to the pan and cook, turning once, until seared and tender, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side. Reserve the lemons on a plate and return the pan to medium heat with the butter and red pepper flakes. When the butter has melted, add the reserved coarsely chopped bread to the pan. Immediately stir or toss all of the ingredients together to coat the bread and then let the it toast, tossing or stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 7 to 8 minutes total. Season the crispy bits with salt and pepper. Remove the crispy bits from the pan and let cool for 5 minutes.

To prepare the dressing, place the anchovies and garlic on a cutting board with a hearty pinch of salt. Using your knife, chop all of the ingredients together and then use the side of your knife to smash them into a paste. Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the egg yolk, lemon juice and mustard. While whisking constantly, slowly stream the oils into the bowl and mix until incorporated. Stir in the cheese and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

To assemble the salad, add the torn lettuce to the bowl with the dressing and toss to combine. Arrange the salad on serving plates and top each with a couple of the seared lemon slices. Garnish each salad with the crispy bits and some additional cheese, if using. Serve immediately.

Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Marc Forgione and Bobby Deen, he now works on digital production for FoodNetwork.com, CookingChannelTV.com and Food.com in NYC by day and develops recipes at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following him on Twitter & Instagram at @patrickwdecker or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.

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