I find food phobias quite amusing. I’m talking about phobias, as opposed to allergies. Proper allergies (unlike those that people invent for themselves because they read somewhere that Beyonce is allergic to crumpets and that eliminating them from her diet has, literally, changed her life) can be awful. As someone who lives with someone with a severe fish allergy, I know from bitter experience that real food allergies are not at all funny.
Phobias are very different. People often convince themselves that they dislike a food, even if it turns out they have never tried it. Apparently it takes children up to 15 times to be offered a food before they might grow to accept it and like it. A friend of mine maintains that she absolutely cannot eat raspberries because she hates the texture of the pips, but is quite happy to slather her toast with raspberry jam and not the seedless variety.
Sometimes your tastes change, adapt and generally mature. As a child I hated olives, despite my mother’s dogged perseverance with me. When I was about sixteen, I decided to try them again and realised I loved them. In contrast, I have tried in vain to like and appreciate coffee for many years without success. I have tried it in every form; strong, weak, iced, sweet. I have tried, but it still makes me gag. I suppose the suggestion is to keep trying things, even the things you believe you do not like. You may find you like them, you may not, but an appreciation of a wide range of flavours and textures in food is a wonderful thing.
Anchovies are a frequently mentioned phobia in food. Fresh anchovies are one thing, but the type that most of us come across most are the cured or marinated sort that often come in flat tins or glass jars in oil. A lot of people are convinced they cannot stand them. They are a highly flavoured food, deeply savoury and intensely salty and so are not to many people’s taste. I am not convinced when I see chefs proclaim that if you melt anchovies into hot oil while preparing a dish, you won’t taste them, they will just add depth to the dish. This really isn’t true. The whole point of marinated anchovies is the strength of the taste. Lamb, slow cooked with anchovies is wonderful, but it still tastes of anchovies. Personally, I love them, but I do appreciate they are just too much for some people. They are certainly one of those foods that you may learn to love as you grow older, even if you hated them when you first tried them.
Despite its Roman name, Caesar Salad was invented in 1924 in Tijuana, Mexico by a restaurateur by the name of Caesar Cardini. During prohibition, he found his restaurant flooded by booze-seeking Americans. To relieve the pressure on his kitchen he decided that this popular salad would be prepared at the table by the waiters instead. It was a very theatrical show, especially as the use of a raw egg as part of the dressing was seen as exciting and controversial.
Purists might protest at the addition of items such as chicken, bacon and extra cheese, but I think a shredded, plain cooked chicken breast works very well, as it adds substance but has a soft enough flavour to still let the dressing shine. It is the dressing that makes this salad special. The thick and creamy consistency coats the leaves beautifully. This, along with the freshness of the lettuce and the crunch of croutons makes for every mouthful being exciting and always a bit different. Anchovies are a fundamental part of the dressing of any reasonably authentic version of Caesar Salad. You can try using a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce instead (which contains anchovies anyway) or leave them out if they cause you too much trauma, but give it a go. You might just like it.
Chicken Caesar Salad
– 1 free-range egg
– 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
– 1/2 crushed garlic clove-less if it’s a large clove
– 3 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
– juice ½ lemon
– ½ tsp sea salt flakes or ¼ tsp pouring salt (use none if you add anchovies)
– 1 Romaine or Cos lettuce
– 1 cold roast chicken breast
– freshly ground pepper
For the croutons
– 200g ciabatta bread
– 2 tbs olive oil
– 1 clove of garlic, crushed
First make the croutons. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Tear the bread into rough, mouth size chunks. Crush the garlic into the olive oil and drizzle over the ciabatta. Mix well so all the pieces of bread are coated. Spread in a single layer on a baking tray. Bake for about 15 minutes, turning halfway, until the pieces are golden and crispy.
If you are using anchovies, put them in a bowl and mash them to a thick paste. Crack the egg into a bowl and mix with the anchovies. Add the oil slowly while whisking so the dressing emulsifies. Stir in the lemon juice and garlic and taste. Season if necessary. You will definitely need to add salt if you are not using anchovies.
Tear the lettuce into pieces. Toss in the dressing so the leaves are evenly coated. Add the parmesan and toss again. Tear the chicken into strips and add to the salad. Sprinkle over the croutons, adding a few extra shavings of parmesan if you like. Serve immediately.