A Chicken Caesar You’re Supposed to Eat With Your Hands

August 22, 2018

It’s not that I don’t like forks and knives. It’s just that, sometimes, eating with your hands is more fun. Think about hot dogs at a baseball game or burgers at a cookout or funnel cakes at a fair. Think about pizza.

Or caesar salad. Yep, Caesar salad! This classic has indeed pitched its tent in Camp Cutlery. But today, we’re teaching it to loosen up, hoot and holler, jump around. Here’s how:

Photo by Julia Gartland

Don’t chop the lettuce.

I love an alt-greenery Caesar (have you tried our zucchini one?), but romaine is what we want and need here. It’s large, crisp, and sturdy enough to turn into lettuce cups. Simply pull the leaves like you’re plucking petals from a flower. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…

Simplify the dressing.

If I’m grilling chicken and making my own croutons and yada-yada-yada, I don’t want to stress about the dressing. Instead of starting with egg yolks and oil—and making our own emulsification—we’ll start with store-bought mayonnaise, which does all the hard work for us. To this, add minced anchovies and garlic, lots of lemon juice, olive oil, Worcestershire, an unshy amount of black pepper, and a splash of balsamic. The last is unconventional, but I love its sweet tang.


Did I say dressing? I also meant marinade.

How to make the chicken in a chicken Caesar ultra-Caesar-y? Marinate it in some of the dressing. I opt for chicken breasts, which are classic salad fare, but you could throw caution to the wind and use thighs instead. Because the marinade is mayo-based, it means the chicken will be moist no matter what.

Cook your chicken and croutons the same way.

On the grill. If you’re already firing up one heat source, milk it for all its worth. I start with bread slices—I like a rustic, Italian-style white, but anything works—and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until charred on both sides, then tear into itty-bitty pieces.

Don’t forget the bonuses.

You could totally fill lettuce cups with Caesar-dressed grilled chicken and croutons and no one would be mad. In fact, they’d probably ask for seconds. But! There are a few mix-ins that I really love here: Grated parm (or pecorino). Capers, which my mom always adds to caesars, and now I do, too. And shredded radicchio. Not only does this stretch the filling, but it adds a little bitterness to cut through the richness; plus, a pop of ruby color.

What’s your favorite way to Caesar? Tell us all the deets in the comments!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


cosmiccook April 26, 2019
This is just in time for our Jazz Fest crawfish boil--BUT I'm subbing the chicken with shrimp.
Emma L. April 26, 2019
Yum, that sounds great!
Sean B. September 10, 2018
Everyone's had a lettuce wrap, but using a big ol' romaine leaf as a taco shell? That's BRILLIANT.

Honestly, I think one of the most boring parts of a salad is that they're just not that fun to eat: typically definitely a fork-and-maybe-knife kind of dish, often with very little variation. This changes that, and I can't wait to try it. Absolutely brill.
FrugalCat August 22, 2018
My mom used to use a thick dressing like Thousand Island, spread it on whole leaves of iceberg, then roll them up for me. This was the only way I would eat salad as a young child.
Emma L. August 23, 2018
Yum! Thousand Island was my favorite dressing when I was a kid.
Michael C. August 22, 2018
I used this idea for a party of 25 guests several years ago it was a hit. I just poured a homemade dressing over the uncut romaine leaves. It was a hit. It is almost impossible when standing to handle and eat a salad but when one can eat it with fingers....NO PROBLEM. Make sure the guests have a good napkin.
Emma L. August 23, 2018
Ha yes, napkins come in handy! (Pun intended.)
tamater S. August 27, 2018