Chicken Caesar Salad with Homemade Croutons
Have you ever been to Ruby Tuesday's?
I've been once in my life, and I have to admit my favorite part was the salad bar. Their ranch! The toppings offered! It might be a chain restaurant, but have you had the croutons?!
They're so fresh and soft inside. I worked at a chain restaurant before and I learned a lot about cooking during my time there. I definitely try to avoid chains, and not because I have a snobby take on it, but because The Berkshires are home to some of the best local restaurants, stores and businesses in New England.
Also, I hate making salad. I will make a Mexican salad, like the chipotle chop chicken salad that I will be sharing with you in the future, and I will make a chicken caesar. Or get really fancy and make a steak caesar. Either way, beyond that I just get grossed out by salad when I make it. Don't ask why I am the way I am.
In fact it's such a thing for me, when we go out to eat, I almost always order a salad. Matt thinks I'm insane. He may be onto something there, but back to fresh croutons.
I will say, you can make these with not-so-fresh-bread. That's the way I made them first, in a hopeful attempt to save a loaf of Italian bread that we forgot about for a couple days. You basically just cut a thin slice of the open end and toss it, then use the rest to cube for the croutons. You can also use many different types of bread, but I will recommend a full loaf that you have to cut like Italian, or French. That's what we have used and I can only imagine that the pre-sliced bread you buy is not thick enough to get a crunch AND that soft inner magic.
Along with the wonder of fresh croutons, I also have a few other tips and tricks to make, what we consider to be the best ever chicken Caesar salad. We do not make our own dressing, we have a few that we favor and we narrowed our absolute favorite so far down to Marie's. I have attempted to make caesar dressing from scratch, and I know someday I will, but at this time we dig Marie's.
For this particular chicken salad, I did incorporate frozen chicken tenders from Archer Farms at Target. Locally stores are limiting the amount of meat packaging to 1 per household per daily trip. Normally that would ensue some panic, I will admit I was a little stressed upon reading that but I remembered that there is always a way to zhuzh up frozen meat if you have to.
( I got that word from Chrissy Teigen and I love her for it )
All of my kitchenware is her brand from Target and I know people have their opinions but I am among the society of people who has never seen Tiger King and doesn't like dessert, so, judgement free zone. And Chrissy's food is literally drop to your knees delicious.
So the frozen chicken, doesn't have the charm that a fresh chicken breast does, but it does have the same end product and you CAN season it, if you follow these steps. The chicken can be cooked from frozen in the Ninja Foodi, in a pan with a lid, in the oven or the crockpot. Whatever you use, I am not trained in the area of InstantPot because the Foodi has a pressure and slow cook setting. We also use the bake setting on the Foodi while cooking these, so if InstantPot has a bake setting, then you go ahead with it! You place the chicken tenders and let them cook for 5-10 minutes. At this point, you should start seeing the thawed raw upright side of the chicken and that's when you sprinkle the seasoning, and a little oil if you want to. Cover for another minute or two, and then flip them. Our go to chicken Caesar salad seasoning is lemon pepper.
My next tips with a Caesar salad is fresh shaved asiago and parmesan cheese. I know we use Cracker Barrel for the asiago and I get whatever I can find for shredded parmesan. You can even use shake parmesan if you're in a bind, its the asiago that gives that extra kick of flavor.
After I shave the asiago, I season it with a good dusting of black pepper. I had a steak once, with melted asiago and peppercorns and the spice of the paper, really kicks it up a notch.
The croutons are seriously cubes of Italian, French, pumpernickel or whatever you like bread. Toss them in a bowl with olive oil. Season with dried thyme, basil and rosemary, and toss again, you really want to cover them. Drizzle oil into a pan, heat on MEDIUM and transfer the uncooked croutons into it. I use a spatula to flips them around every minute or so. Once they are golden brown on all sides, and seriously be careful not to burn them, remove from heat and garnish over your Caesar salad.
This entire combination together is absolutely stuff your face delicious, and its SALAD! Hoo-ray for us!
4-5 slices of Italian or French bread, about an inch thick
(you can try other kinds of bread to your liking, but I recommend a full loaf of bread that isn't pre-sliced)
the dried seasonings:
(this is to your taste, I would suggest 1/4 tsp to start)
olive oil, a drizzle that touches all most of the bread pieces but doesn't drown them
Slice the pieces of bread into squares
Heat some oil on MEDIUM
Toss the uncooked croutons in oil, rosemary, thyme and basil
Toss the croutons around in the pan until golden brown on each side, around every 30 seconds
Serve immediately, enjoy!