Chicken Caesar Salad with scrambled eggs and toast

*Or: “Finding out why everyone just uses store-bought caesar dressing”

Right off the bat, you are probably asking yourself what scrambled eggs on toast has to do with caesar salad. The answer, of course, is nothing, unless you are cooking with me and I didn’t do enough prep work. But we’ll come back to that in a minute. When last I posted we were doggedly working our way through the greens. We’re still at it. I had a lovely spinach salad and Chad used the remaining leaves for another sandwich, while Shae took care of the mixed greens with her own salad. Now we were down to the romaine and the swiss chard, and I don’t know about you, but to me romaine lettuce just screams caesar salad. And it was going to be quick and easy because a caesar is the simplest salad ever.  Greens plus dressing plus cheese, possibly some croutons. I had some chicken that needed cooked, and I decided to grill it and throw that on top. No problem. Then I got ambitious and that’s when the trouble started.

Romaine. Caesar. It just makes sense. Even the puppy sous-chef agrees.

Romaine. Caesar. It just makes sense. Even the puppy sous-chef agrees.

For some stupid reason I can’t remember, I decided to make my own caesar dressing. Okay that’s a lie. I know exactly why I wanted to make my own caesar dressing. I wanted to make my own caesar dressing because one of the only times I ever babysat anyone was when I went across the street to keep the Johnson’s kid busy while the parents had a dinner party. I got there early and Mrs. Johnson was trying and failing to coddle an egg for a homemade caesar dressing. I watched her run through half a dozen eggs. I was in my early teens at the time and was both blown away to find you could make salad dressing from scratch and amused that this woman seemed to suck at it. And since that night decades ago, every time I have had a caesar salad, I think of Mrs. Johnson in her evening finery throwing egg after egg in the trash and chuckle. Why I thought I could do any better is beyond me, but some sort of CSA-hubris had me in its grip. And so it was that at 10 pm on a saturday night I ran to the grocery store to buy anchovies and eggs.

A caesar, it turns out, isn’t much more complicated than most dressings, it just has some odd ingredients (anchovies and worcestershire sauce come to mind). Here’s what we need:

Olive oil, red wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, lemon, garlic, egg.

Olive oil, red wine vinegar, worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, lemon, garlic, egg. And a laptop.

This is my first experience with anchovies.

Okey doke. Embracing new experiences.

Ew. Embracing new experiences.

It calls for “a dash” of worcestershire sauce, which would be fine if my bottle didn’t look like this:

How does one get "a dash" out of an open-topped bottle? To say I guesstimated is a massive understatement.

How does one get “a dash” out of an open-topped bottle? To say I guesstimated is a massive understatement.

Now, several recipes have instructed to smash the anchovies with the edge of my knife. I tried that. Nothing happened. They were already flat. They weren’t getting any flatter. So I just sort of minced them into a mush. My caesar salad will include “pulverized anchovies” rather than smashed ones. Throwing everything else in, the dressing currently looks like this:

Okay, kind of looks right. -ish.

Okay, kind of looks right…-ish.

Egg time. Okay. I looked up coddling eggs, and it turns out “coddling” can mean various consistencies and cooking times, but it is always a “gentle” cooking process. That’s about all I had to work with. Of course, now that the Great Egg Massacre of ’14 is over, I thought to consult The Joy Of Cooking, which lays out exquisitely-detailed instructions. Sorry Irma, should have gone to you first. Lesson learned. But before I get too into the monday-morning quarterbacking, let’s back up and see what I did at the time.

I brought water to a boil and chucked an egg in for 40 seconds, as per some website’s instructions. Here’s how it came out,

That there is a raw egg.

That there is a raw egg.

I then brought more water to a boil and chucked an egg in for 50 seconds. This time I cracked it right into the dressing, which was a mistake, because I’m pretty sure if I had cracked it into a glass bowl, it would have still looked like this:

Still a raw egg.

Still a raw egg.

I tried stirring it all up, but really I just had a vinaigrette with a raw egg added. Now, some recipes actually call for cracking a raw egg over the finished salad, but that’s not what we’re going for here, so I tried again. Unfortunately I was out of lemon, so I had to fall back on this thing I found in the fridge:

Apparently there is lemon juice in here.

Apparently there is lemon juice in here.

I also had just enough red wine vinegar to try one more time, so I went back to cracking eggs in the bowl just to be safe. One minute left me with another raw egg. It was 10:30 pm at this point and I still hadn’t had dinner, so I scrambled the less-than-coddled eggs and put them on buttered toast and ate them and felt good about it.

Leave no egg behind.

Leave no egg behind.

Fortified by my breakfastdinnersnack, I pressed on. It hit me that the eggs I was using were refrigerated and maybe some extra time might be necessary, so I left the next one in boiling water for a bit over a minute, resulting in this:

Wrong wrong wrong!

Wrong wrong wrong!

We want a soft-freaking-boiled egg! Why is this so difficult! I’d like to take back all the years of chuckling about Mrs. Johnson’s egg-coddling effort and issue a sincere apology. Mrs. Johnson, I feel your pain. We were pushing 11 pm at this point, so I used the above-pictured egg. I stirred it in, realized I pretty much had another raw egg in there, and scooped out the white, leaving the yolk to hopefully help emulsify the whole business. Salt, pepper, stir, dump it on the salad, and it came out…well, it wasn’t creamy. The flavor was very strong, but very tasty as well. But hang on, for the love of Pete: I completely forgot the 1/4 cup of olive oil this time. And yet it really did taste just fine. I may have just invented extremely low-fat caesar dressing. You’re welcome, America! Was this a win? Mmm, more like the other team didn’t wear the correct jerseys and got disqualified. But it did taste good and I happily ate it all, and the romaine lettuce has been dispatched, so I’m okay with it.

Add a toasted buttered ciabatta and we're good to go.

Add a toasted buttered ciabatta, some shave parmesan, and we’re good to go. CSA salad!

Post-script: If you’re wondering how to actually, successfully coddle an egg, Irma Rombauer confirms my suspicions in The Joy of Cooking (and, Mom, uses a method reminiscent of your hard-boiling strategy). She starts off by noting that the cooking method assumes your eggs are 70°, which I assume is just a specification for your average room temperature, and adds that you should increase the cooking time by 2 minutes if the eggs are refrigerated. I knew it! Okay, moving on. She advises that you bring the water to a boil, put the egg in, remove from the heat, then leave it for 6 to 8 minutes. Wait. 6 TO 8 MINUTES? There is some serious room for error there, Irma. Clearly coddling is more art than science. I may just buy the stupid dressing next time, or possibly just dump some scrambled eggs on my salad and be done with it.

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