Genius Recipes

The Best Chicken Caesar Salad I've Ever Had

Genius tricks and unconventional ingredients abound in Ali Slagle’s debut cookbook ‘I Dream of Dinner.’

April 20, 2022

The miracle of this marinade would have been enough. Stir together a few ingredients, pour off half for a feisty Caesar dressing and save the rest to marinate your chicken? Brilliant.

But then, don’t let that marinade sit for hours to soak in. Don’t even wipe any off. Just sizzle the chicken and its protective cloak in a nonstick skillet, till the oil breaks free from the marinade and the Parm and anchovy all frizzles and browns. This can only be described as Whoaaa.

Whoa. Photo by Bobbi Lin. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

Ali Slagle learned the power of mayonnaise-based marinades from her New York Times colleague J. Kenji López-Alt: Mayo browns beautifully, carries flavors well, and protects seasonings from burning (you can read all about it here). Next, Ali put the trick to use in a popular Ginger-Lime Chicken of her own.

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But when faced with creating 150 dinner recipes for her debut cookbook I Dream of Dinner, each done in 45 minutes and under 10 ingredients, Ali started dreaming about how to make that marinade do even more work.

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Top Comment:
“Do you think this recipe would work with one of the fake chicken products? ”
— West C.

“I always thought about it as wiggling loose teeth,” Ali told me. “I would, in my mind, wiggle each ingredient and think, ‘What would that dish be without it? Will it still be good?’”

So the marinade pulled double-duty as dressing, and Ali continued questioning every bottle and leaf, to make sure they all pulled their weight in efficiency and joy. Here’s how the rest wiggled out, and changed what I thought a chicken Caesar salad could be.

The dressing players:
In addition to some of the punchy classics like lemon, anchovy, and garlic that define this salad’s flavor as resolutely Caesar, Ali brings in some unexpectedly welcome characters.

Instead of Worcestershire sauce, which doesn’t always justify the space it rents in the fridge door, Ali turns to more ubiquitous soy sauce for umami and well-rounded salt. She also adds Dijon mustard—“another prickly ingredient,” she told me—and lemon zest, a freebie with the juice, for even more brightness.

Whoaaa. Photo by Bobbi Lin. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.

The lettuce(s):
Inspired by Samin Nosrat’s Caesar, Ali likes a mix of sweet, juicy lettuces like Romaine or Little Gems and bitter chicories like endive, escarole, or radicchio, to bring out more dimension and make a dinner salad as compelling as a multicourse meal.

She also sprinkles the greens with lemon juice and salt before dressing—yet another layer of blandness prevention.

The giant crouton:
Ali starts her croutons in a skillet as big slices of fried toast, then cuts them bite-size. This frees us from the inevitable smaller crumbs that will start to smolder before the rest, and gives us a new crouton paradigm: crispy edges, yes, but also warm, fluffy middles.

And all of this thoughtfulness, all of this flavor, can take as little time as your favorite podcast. The marinade is still enough to make this recipe genius, but Ali has handed us many more miracles to take to our kitchens, too.

Got a Genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]. Thank you to longtime Food52er and makeup magician Emily Hanhan for this one!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • catalinalacruz
  • West Coast Larry
    West Coast Larry
  • M
  • Ali Slagle
    Ali Slagle
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


catalinalacruz May 22, 2022
We're supposed to refrigerate Worcestershire sauce?
West C. April 21, 2022
I’ve cooked a lot of Ali’s recipes in the New York Times app and always made them vegetarian. Last night we made her meatball sub with Impossible and it worked out great. Do you think this recipe would work with one of the fake chicken products?
Ali S. April 21, 2022
I'm afraid I'm not super familiar with fake chicken, but I do think the method would work with tempeh or tofu. Oh! Or chickpeas using EmilyC's method:
West C. April 21, 2022
Thanks, Ali! Appreciate your response. We’re big fans of your work in my house!
M April 20, 2022
Unless you have intense climate issues in your home, worcestershire will be quite happy in a cupboard and free up that fridge space.