The smoky char of the grill brings a whole new dimension to plain old Caesar salad. To develop good char and maintain crisp lettuce without ending up with scorched, wilted, even slimy leaves, America’s Test Kitchen used sturdy, compact romaine hearts, which withstood the heat of the grill better than whole heads.
Halving them lengthwise and grilling on just one side gave them plenty of surface area for charring without turning limp. A hot fire meant that the heat didn’t have time to penetrate and wilt the crunchy inner leaves before the -exterior developed grill marks.
Our boldly seasoned Caesar dressing replaced the raw egg with mayonnaise. It was so good that we got the idea to brush it on the cut side of the uncooked lettuce instead of olive oil, allowing the dressing to pick up a mildly smoky flavor on the grill along with the lettuce.
For the croutons, we brushed baguette slices with olive oil, toasted them over the coals, and then rubbed them with a garlic clove. We combined the lettuce and croutons, drizzled on extra dressing, dusted everything with Parmesan, and called tasters. The salad disappeared.
With apologies to Shakespeare: It’s not that we love Caesar less, but that we love grilled Caesar more.
GRILLED CAESAR SALAD
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/ 4 cup grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 anchovy fillets, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (12 inch) baguette, sliced 1/2
inch thick on bias
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 romaine lettuce hearts (18 ounces), halved lengthwise through cores
1/ 4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the dressing: Combine lemon juice and garlic in bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Process lemon-garlic mixture, mayonnaise, Parmesan, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, anchovies, salt, and pepper in blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly add oil until incorporated. Measure out and reserve 6 tablespoons dressing for brushing romaine.
— For a charcoal grill: Open bottom vent completely. Light large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set cooking grate in place, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
— For a gas grill: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
For the salad: Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush bread with oil and grill (over coals if using charcoal), uncovered, until browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to serving platter and rub with garlic clove. Brush cut sides of lettuce with half of reserved dressing. Place half of lettuce, cut side down, on grill (over coals if using charcoal). Grill, uncovered, until lightly charred, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to platter with bread. Repeat with remaining reserved dressing and lettuce. Drizzle lettuce with remaining dressing. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Serve.
Nutrition information per serving: 443 calories; 289 calories from fat; 32 g fat (5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 15 mg cholesterol; 815 mg sodium; 30 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 8 g protein.