MasterChef quarter-finalist Hannah Gregory takes Caesar salad to new heights with a must-try recipe
All hail the Caesar salad, and then all hail XO sauce.
I have been a long-time lover of a good Caesar salad – it is one of my favourite things to eat. Sadly, it is so easy to get wrong, but oh baby, when it’s right. . . it is so right.
There are many a variation, but for me there are a few key notes to hit – dressing must be creamy and unctuous, no one is here for a watery Caesar, loads of parm – obvs, crispy pancetta, must be served with a jammy egg; anchovies are a necessity, not a choice and don’t even get me started on a chickenless salad.
This edition kicks it up a gear with the addition of XO sauce to the dressing (optional, but highly recommended), sous vide chicken (again, if you don’t have the gadgets, pan frying is fine), a Caesar croquette and charred baby gem, which is the only way to eat baby gem in my opinion.
XO sauce is an iconic condiment originating from Hong Kong. Made with dried fish – including scallops and shrimp, salty ham, shallots and garlic – this little lady is the ultimate umami flavour bomb, meaning she pairs perfectly with everything else going on in the dish. My love affair with XO is relatively new and so I think we have the perfect marriage. My long-standing relationship with the chicken Caesar meets my new fling, Madam XO, and here we have the perfect unity.
Along with many other salads, this guy often gets a bad wrap – I find it very hard to get people excited about salad. I always offer this as a suggestion on my private dining menus because he is so darn good, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one and make it for yourself.
XO CHICKEN CAESAR (Serves 2)
Tipple of choice: A super dry rosè
Spotify playlist: WanderSups Date Night
6 marinated anchovies (the sort you get from the fish counter)
6 rashers of pancetta
2 baby gem
Stale sourdough baguette
1 clove of garlic
For the chicken breast marinade:
80ml olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
¼ lemon, zested and juiced
Salt and peps
2 skinless chicken breasts (if doing this for a starter, you can get away with one)
For the croquette:
50g chicken thighs (boneless/skinless)
250ml chicken stock
25g unsalted butter
50g plain flour
1 garlic clove
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
Salt and peps
Small bowl of plain flour (for coating)
Small bowl of panko breadcrumbs (for coating)
Veg oil for frying
For the dressing:
2 anchovy fillets
½ teaspoon English mustard
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoons white wine vinegar
10g grated parmesan cheese
½ garlic clove
1 teaspoon lemon juice
120ml vegetable oil
Salt and peps
1 tablespoon XO sauce (optional)
The night before you intend to eat, whisk all your chicken breast marinade ingredients together. Submerge the chicken breasts in the marinade and leave in the fridge overnight.
Morning of – bring the chicken stock to a simmer and season with salt. Lightly poach the chicken thighs for 15 minutes until just cooked. Leave to cool in the liquid. Once cool enough to handle, remove the thighs and chop into small pieces. Keep the chicken stock for the bechamel.
Make a roux with the butter and flour, slowly adding the chicken stock until a thick bechamel is achieved. Add the anchovies, garlic and parmesan then transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Stir through the parsley and chicken and season to taste.
Line a baking sheet with Cling Film and pour in the chicken mix. Pop in the fridge to firm up.
Once the chicken mix is firm, roll into golf ball sized balls and pop back in the fridge for an hour. If you are worried that the mix still seems a little loose, you can pop into the freezer for the final hour.
Remove the marinated chicken from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.
If using a sous vide, set the temperature to 64. Remove the chicken breasts from the marinade and vac pack. Sous vide for 1 hour. If you do not have a sous vide fridge machine then you can pan fry the chicken breasts.
To make the dressing – blend the mustard, salt, peps, anchovies, egg yolk and garlic with an immersion blender. Slowly trickle in the veg oil until all is emulsified. Add the lemon juice and parmesan and blend again until combined. (If the mixture splits, add a little more lemon juice to bring it back together.) Once it is thick and glossy, stir through the XO sauce and set aside.
Thinly slice the baguette and pop under a hot grill till golden on both sides. Remove and drizzle with olive oil and rub with garlic. Set aside.
Once the balls are set, prepare your pane bowls – one with flour, one with a beaten egg and one with panko breadcrumbs.
Dredge the balls in flour, then the egg, then the panko until fully covered and then set aside.
Place your pancetta in a dry frying pan on a high heat and cook until golden and crispy.
Remove the pancetta from the pan, keeping all the delicious rendered fat in there. Remove the chicken from the sous vide and fry in the pancetta fat until you have a nice colour. If you are not using the sous vide, this is the time to pan fry the chicken breasts.
Bring the oil to 180 and deep fry the chicken balls for 5 minutes until golden and cooked through.
Whilst your oil is heating up, bring a pan of water to the boil and cook your eggs for 6 minutes. Remove from the water and run under cold water to halt the cooking process.
l Heat a griddle pan until hot. Slice the little gems in half lengthways and char on all sides.
To plate, spoon a large amount of dressing on to a plate, smoothing out with the back of the spoon to create a Caesar puddle, place the lettuce on top, with the chicken breast, crispy pancetta, croutons and croquettes.
Carefully peel the egg, slice in half and nestle into the plate.
Dot the anchovies around, and use a speed peeler to garnish with slices of parmesan.
Season with black pepper, a final swirl of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
Find out about Hannah’s upcoming Supper Clubs and what she is currently cooking via Instagram @WanderSups or wandersups.com