Compose grilled romaine, chicken for un-salad

Even before the latest nationwide E. coli outbreak, I’ve never been too keen on romaine lettuce.

Largely flavorless, the lettuce isn’t redeemed on my palate by thick veins that can be watery or woody, depending on age and provenance. Fringing that thick, interior fiber, romaine leaves often can be hopelessly limp. I like my salad greens either light and tender or hearty and crunchy. Not both textures in the same bite.

Because I so rarely purchase romaine, I wasn’t too concerned by the Consumer Reports admonishment of all romaine lettuce, even the stuff grown far from the Yuma, Ariz., source linked to E. coli. Then my husband asked for chicken Caesar salads among the week’s meals!

Already reassured by large signs proclaiming California-grown romaine in my grocer’s produce section, I didn’t think chicken Caesar salads posed a threat to our health. Just a threat to my enjoyment of dinner! I negotiated by asking my husband if we could simultaneously grill the chicken and lettuce for a dish that’s much more appealing to me.

Presenting salad as a composed dish, rather than tossed together, goes a long way toward suggesting a complete meal, rather than a main-dish salad as a mealtime concession. It’s the distinct colors, shapes and textures that I favor. With all the components in front of them, diners assemble bites to their liking. It also allows for using a wider array of vegetables that are better consumed cooked than raw.

That’s exactly how I approached our grilled Caesars. Once the chicken was almost done, I moved it to the cooler side of our pellet smoker. To the hot side, I added split hearts of romaine brushed with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I let them sear until the cores were starting to soften, then flipped them over so the leaves could wilt and char a bit on the edges.

Allocating the most heat-treated heart for my own plate, I dressed them — still whole — with dollops of Caesar dressing, accompanied by a border of homemade croutons, a few bites of oil-packed anchovy fillets, a whole, grilled chicken thigh and a few slices of grilled lemon. A sharp steak knife ensures that everything can be deconstructed at each place setting.

The following recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, does one better on grilled Caesar with a homemade, mustardy, garlicky dressing enhanced with anchovy fillets. Or try grilled romaine with bacon and blue cheese or a grilled cherry-tomato vinaigrette.

Tribune News Service photo

Grilled Romaine Salad With Anchovy-Mustard Vinaigrette

1 large garlic clove, smashed, peeled and minced

6 anchovy fillets, minced

1 tablespoon brown mustard

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grate, divided

Juice of 1 lemon

Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 heads romaine lettuce, loose leaves removed and each head cut lengthwise into halves or quarters (for a color contrast, substitute a large head of radicchio for 1 romaine)

1 ounce (1/4 to 1/3 cup) Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, shredded

1 teaspoon flake sea salt, such as Maldon (may substitute smoked salt for more “grilled” intensity)

Heat grill to medium, indirect heat (300 to 350 F).

In a salad bowl (or do this in blender or food processor), using back of fork, mash the garlic and anchovy fillets together into a paste. Whisk in the mustard and egg yolk and then whisk in the 1/2 cup oil a little at a time until a thick sauce forms. Stir in the lemon juice and season with the fine sea salt and pepper.

Brush grill grate with some olive oil. Coat the romaine with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put romaine directly on grate over fire and grill, turning once, just until grill-marked, for about 20 seconds per side. Using tongs, remove romaine from heat and paint with half of vinaigrette, getting dressing down in between leaves. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Return romaine to grill, in a spot with indirect heat and cook, covered, until cheese just starts to melt and ends of the romaine leaves wilt, for about 2 minutes.

Transfer romaine to a platter. Dress with remaining vinaigrette, a scattering of remaining cheese, and a sprinkle of the flake salt.

Makes 4 servings.

From “Williams-Sonoma Grill School,” by Andrew Schloss and David Joachim (Weldon Owen, publisher).

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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