Take your Caesar salad to the grill

Joe Keller/America's Test Kitchen via APFor this Caesar salad, both the romaine lettuce and croutons are charred on the grill.

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, we 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 replaces the raw egg with mayonnaise. It is 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

Servings: 6

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 anchovy fillets, rinsed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:

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

Combine the lemon juice and garlic in a bowl, and let stand for 10 minutes. Process the lemon-garlic mixture, mayonnaise, Parmesan, vinegar, Worcestershire, mustard, anchovies, salt and pepper in a blender until smooth, about 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly add 1/4 cup foil until incorporated. Measure out and reserve 6 tablespoons dressing for brushing romaine.

For a charcoal grill: Open the bottom vent completely. Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal briquettes (6 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour evenly over half of grill. Set the 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.

Clean and oil cooking grate. Brush the bread with oil, and grill (over coals if using charcoal), uncovered, until browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a serving platter, and rub with the garlic clove.

Brush cut sides of the 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, 1-2 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.

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