Thursday, April 25, 2013

Caesar Salad with Smoked Bacon & Quail's Eggs

Inspired by Chef Jason Bangerter's Caesar Salad that I had at Luma last year, I decided to try and reproduce his modern interpretation of the culinary classic. With all of the familiar salty and savoury flavours of a classic Caesar, Chef Bangerter's version was delicious and the presentation, stunning. Tiny boiled quail's eggs, crispy double smoked bacon lardons, homemade croutons, salt cured anchovy fillets and thick curls of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano were all nestled atop centre-cut medallions of romaine lettuce hearts topped with a tangy Caesar vinaigrette.

Chef Jason Bangerter of Luma

Two thick slices of double smoked bacon from Scheffler's 
in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market

Although you could use pancetta, I found this fabulous double smoked bacon at Scheffler's in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, and had them cut two thick slices for a smokier more flavourful lardon in my Caesar Salad. Julienned into 1/8-inch slices, the bacon is first placed in a cool pan, then brought up to heat with a little olive oil, and sautéed until lightly browned and crispy.

Scheffler’s Deli & Cheese has been in business at the Market since 1955 
and has the largest selection of prosciutto in the city

The bacon is julienned into 1/8-inch pieces and placed in a cold skillet

Sautéed gently with a teaspoon of olive oil, 
the bacon is cooked through until it becomes slightly crispy

One of the more charming adornments of Chef Bangerter's Caesar were the soft boiled quail's eggs. Cooking them in gently boiling water for only a few minutes then peeling them while they're still warm, makes the task of peeling the little guys slightly easier. Waiting too long, the membrane sticks tightly to the shell making peeling the eggs much more time consuming. 

The quail's eggs are cooked briefly in gently boiling water for about 5 minutes, 
then peeled, halved and used as a lovely garnish on the salad

Homemade croutons are one of my therapeutic kitchen pastimes. I hate waste and make use of any leftover baguettes, buns or nice bread. Cut into bite size cubes and sautéed over medium-high in a skillet with olive oil and liberally seasoned with herb de provence, salt and fresh ground pepper, the croutons are sautéed until they're golden brown. Any leftovers just get bagged and bunged in the freezer for future use. Easy-peasey.

Pan fried homemade croutons 

My all-time favourite Caesar Salad dressing is from Alfred Portale's Gotham Grill & Bar Cookbook. Boldly flavoured with lots of garlic and anchovies, Chef Portale's recipe suggests adding grated Parmigiano-Reggiano into the dressing, but in keeping with my vision of Chef Bangerter's Caesar, I waited and added thick curls of Parmigiano on top of the salad as part of the final presentation. 

Alfred Portale's excellent 'Gotham Bar and Grill' cookbook

Chef Alfred Portale

The real key to Luma's Caesar Salad is the way Chef Bangerter cuts the romaine lettuce. Rather than tearing it into bite size pieces, he slices romaine hearts cross-wise into 2-inch thick 'medallions' and places them flat on the plate, creating a leafy plateau onto which the symphony of savoury Caesar goodies are mounded.

Caesar Salad with Double Smoked Bacon & Quail's Eggs
Serves 4

4 jumbo romaine lettuce hearts

12 quail's eggs, at room temperature
12 anchovy fillets
2 thick slices double smoked bacon

1 small baguette
1 tsp herbe de provence
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Caesar Dressing:
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste with kosher salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

For the dressing: In a small blender, combine the egg, lemon juice, mustard, anchovies and garlic. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil until the dressing is smooth and thick. Season with salt and pepper, then cover and refrigerate until needed.

For the homemade croutons: slice the baguette into 1/2-inches pieces, then cut each slice into bite size pieces, about 6 croutons per slice. Place a small skillet over medium-high with some olive oil, and when the oil is shimmering, add the bread. Liberally season with salt, pepper and herbe de provence, tossing to coat and stirring frequently until the bread is golden brown. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Julienne the double smoked bacon into 1/8-inch slices and then sauté in a small skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until the bacon is crisp and cooked through, about 5-6 minutes. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

Place the quail's eggs in a small saucepan of cold water and bring to a gentle boil, allowing the eggs to cook 3-4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and cool briefly in cold water so the eggs are easier to handle. While they're still warm, peel carefully by first tapping the eggs all over to crack the shells, then holding each egg under a slow trickle of running water, peel the shell off starting at the wide end. The water will flush off any bits of shell that cling on to the eggs. Cover and set aside until needed. (This can all be done ahead up to this point).

To compose the salad: start by setting out 4 dinner bowls. On a cutting board, slice each heart of romaine crosswise into 2-inch thick 'medallions,' using just the centre cut and discarding the head and root — you should get about 3 or 4 pieces per head. As you cut each lettuce, place 3 'wheels' tightly together on each plate. Drizzle half of the dressing over the lettuce, then top with the bacon, followed by the croutons then the anchovies. Slice each quail's eggs in half and divide among each salad. Using a vegetable peeler, slice the parmigiano-reggiano into thick curls and garnish over each salad, then finish with a final drizzle of dressing. Season with fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkle of maldon salt.

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