When a Canadian invites you for a barbecue, be prepared for anything from beef to bell peppers seared over a flaming grill.
To Americans, and most of the rest of the world, that’s “grilling”; Our neighbours to the south consider barbecue an entirely different culinary genre.
As a Time magazine essay on American barbecue puts it, “the real thing is cooked over indirect heat — usually a wood fire — for a really long time (sometimes for as many as 18 hours). The resulting flavor is a combination of smoke, meat juices, fat and whatever spices or rub have been added.”
By that definition, I’ve never “barbecued.” But I have used the propane-powered grill thing we call a “barbecue” frequently to prepare a meal, even down to the salad.
I first had a version of a Grilled Caesar Salad at the now-closed Raincity Grill in Vancouver; we were waiting for our table within visual range of the open prep area and kept seeing the chefs plunk down chunks of Romaine lettuce on the grill, charring them, and then dressing them up. We ordered that salad and it was delicious, but I had no idea quite how it was all put it together.
A few months later, I told this story at a dinner party and one of the guests, much more determined than me, contacted the restaurant to get the recipe. She was told that they didn’t share their recipes but she somehow managed to get a version faxed to her (remember faxes?) by suggesting she was hosting a dinner party for a celebrity who had previously frequented Raincity and had raved about the Grilled Caesar: I have a copy of that recipe, still.
The authentic version of a Raincity Grilled Caesar Salad is way beyond my cooking complication level. You are supposed to create caper oil, fried capers, preserved lemons, a lemon puree, AND a dressing before starting. I’ve whittled down the technique and recipe to something manageable for a home cook: so far, the reviews have been good.
Kelley’s simplified home version of the Raincity Grilled Caesar Salad
One romaine lettuce heart per person, cut in half, lengthwise, including the stem/root end
1 teaspoon of capers, drained, per person /salad
Small handful of croutons, per person: you can make your own quickly by roughly cubing some stale bread crusts or slices, tossing with olive oil and minced garlic, and either baking at 350 until crispy (just a few minutes) or sautéeing until toasted / crisp in a non-stick pan.
Coarsely grated Parmesan cheese, quantity to taste, for sprinkling over salad
Caesar dressing (ingredients and method below)
Rub olive oil over the split romaine heads and take to barbecue on a tray or baking sheet.
After you’ve finished grilling food that takes longer to cook (and your steaks or pork tenderloin or chicken breasts or Portobello mushrooms are kept warm under tin foil tents), put the romaine halves on the hot grill for one minute. Flip. Give it another scant minute. This goes very fast, so watch it. Some charring will happen but you don’t want more than a small amount.
Take the lettuce off the grill and put on tray or sheet. Bring back into kitchen or prep area. Cut the “stem” root end off and lift the rest of the lettuce onto individual plates; remove any thoroughly burnt/charred bits.
Dot with croutons and capers, and drizzle dressing over top. Add grated Parmesan cheese, if you wish. The smokiness flavour produced by this grill method adds a delicious extra flavour to this salad and it always beyond fun to freak out your friends by grilling / barbecuing lettuce.
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (depending on size)
1/3 to 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley, stems removed (no need to chop as it goes into a food processor)
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (the original recipe calls for tinned anchovies)
1/2 cup mayonnaise, into which you stir 1 teaspoon of water to thin it
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
juice of half a lemon
In a food processor, pulse garlic, parsley and anchovy paste to until finely chopped. Add mayonnaise and pulse. While pulsing, dribble in the olive oil to mix. You may need to scrape down the side of the blender bowl to incorporate the parsley and garlic. Add the vinegar and lemon juice. Pulse briefly. I don’t add salt — the anchovy paste does the trick.
Because the original recipe calls for preserved lemon to be on the salad, I have increased the original recipe’s lemon quantity in the dressing to give a similar zing. Also, yes, you need a food processor for this one. Vitamix or other blenders do not work because you don’t have enough quantity of ingredients to mix.
Main photo: Chris Moorehead