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~Hail to the Grill-Panned Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad~

IMG_5749If you are a lover of a crisp and tangy classic Caesar salad, and, you love your Caesar salad with juicy, grilled chicken tossed into it, there's more.  If you are a lover of pasta salads too, you are gonna fall in love with this recipe. Adding pasta and a protein to a Caesar salad makes sense on many levels. Besides stretching it to feed a crowd, it turns it into a hearty and refreshing main-course salad perfect to to serve at any almost any gathering -- a picnic, potluck or tailgate.   

We Americans love Caesar salad.  Over the past four decades, the Caesar salad has overwhelmingly become America's favorite salad.  It altered the lettuce industry too, as the demand for romaine has skyrocketed.  Then, the grilled-chicken-topped Caesar salad option turn this salad into the most ordered chicken item on restaurant menus -- more popular than chicken wings and chicken fingers.  Add a handful of cooked pasta to it too?  What's not to love!

IMG_5577A bit about the chicken:   Experience has taught that chicken sandwiches made with boneless, skinless breast are usually a "miss", meaning they are typically overcooked, dry, and tough -- not even close to the juicy, tender protein we were expecting. While the boneless, skinless chicken tenderloin is indeed a step up in terms of tenderness, for me no matter how you cook it, the more flavorful dark-meat boneless, skinless chicken thigh is the ticket -- even if you manage to overcook it a bit, it's still naturally tender and juicy.

Hail to the grill-panned chicken Caesar pasta salad:

IMG_5663For 1 very large family-style salad or 6 smaller-but-hearty main-dish salads :

6  boneless, skinless chicken-thigh paillards  (Note:  If grilled chicken tenderloins are more to your liking, feel free to make that substitution using the directions contained in this link.) (1 chicken thigh per salad)

IMG_56011/2 - 3/4  cup homemade creamy Caesar dressing, or, your favorite store-bought brand, for seasoning chicken (Note:  There's no shame in using your favorite brand of store-bought dressing to make this family-friendly salad.  Mine is made by Wish-Bone.   It's bold and tangy, and, it's got aged Parmesan cheese in it.  You'd be wise to give it a try!)

12  ounces rotini pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions, then, drained and cooled according to my directions (12 ounces uncooked pasta = 9 cups cooked pasta = 1 1/2 cups cooked pasta per salad)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for adding to pasta water

1 1/2 cups creamy Caesar dressing, for tossing into salad, divided in half, 3/4 cup to be tossed in with the pasta, then 3/4 cup more to toss in when lettuce, onion and cheese are added as directed below (2 tablespoons per salad to toss in with the pasta, then 2 more tablespoons per salad to toss in when lettuce, onion and cheese are added)

12  cups, torn into bite-sized pieces, romaine lettuce leaves (2 cups per salad) 

2  cups thinly-sliced, slices cut into half-moons, red onion (1/3 cup per salad)

6  tablespoons shredded Parmesan cheese (1 tablespoon per salad)

2  cups grape tomatoes, sliced in half, for garnishing salad (1/3 cup per salad)

2  cups Caesar-style croutons, for garnishing salad (1/3 cup per salad)

6 grilled chicken thighs, thin-sliced or diced (1 thigh per salad)

6  tablespoons additional cheese, for garnishing salad (1 tablespoon per salad)

additional creamy Caesar dressing for drizzling on salads, if desired, at tableside

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

IMG_5579 IMG_5579 IMG_5579~Step 1.  Cover the top surface a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2" -- do not pound chicken thighs to smithereens.

IMG_5601 IMG_5601 IMG_5601 IMG_5601~Step 2.  Using a pastry brush, paint the top surface of each chicken-thigh paillard with a scant tablespoon of the creamy Caesar dressing.  FYI:  Since marination works as a favorizor, NOT, a tenderizer, there is no need to marinate the chicken thighs in dressing for any length of time.

IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591 IMG_5591~Step 3.  Spray the surface of a grill pan with no-stick cooking spray. Working in batches of 2-3 chicken thigh paillards at a time, so as not to overcrowd the grill pan, place the paillards, dressing-coated side down, in the grill pan.  Paint the new top-side surfaces (the second sides) of the paillards with a scant tablespoon of the creamy Caesar dressing.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high.  Cook until paillards are deep golden on the first side, about 8-10 minutes.  Flip the paillards over and cook until deep golden on the second side and cooked through, 8-10 additional minutes.  Repeat this process with remaining paillards.  Don't have a grill pan?  Worry not, use a large nonstick skillet.

IMG_5694 IMG_5694 IMG_5694 IMG_5694 IMG_5694 IMG_5694 IMG_5694~Step 4.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with plastic wrap and a layer of parchment paper.  Set aside.   In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil and add the salt.  Add the pasta to the boiling water.  Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed, in salted water, about 9-10 minutes -- do not overcook the pasta, meaning: error on the side of ever-so-slightly undercooking it.  Drain it into a colander, and, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Why?  Bringing it quickly to room temperature halts the cooking process, and, pasta that is rinsed of its starch will not get sticky or gummy.  Thoroughly drain and transfer pasta to a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, free from water, not dried out, about 30 minutes.

Note:  To this point, both the chicken and the pasta can be covered and refrigerated overnight.

IMG_5717 IMG_5717 IMG_5717 IMG_5717~Step 5.  Slice, dice or chop the grill-panned chicken thighs to your liking.  Set aside.  Tear the romaine lettuce into bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Slice the red onion as directed and set aside.  Slice the grape tomatoes.  Set aside.  Proceed with assembling the salad as directed.

IMG_5723 IMG_5723 IMG_5723 IMG_5732 IMG_5732 IMG_5739 IMG_5739~ Step 6.  To assemble one large salad or six smaller salads, place the pasta in appropriately-sized bowl(s).  Add the first half of the Caesar dressing and toss to thoroughly enrobe the pasta in it's own layer of flavorful dressing.  Add the torn lettuce, sliced onion and Parmesan cheese and second half of the dressing.  Toss again to thoroughly combine.  Garnish the top of the salad with the halved cherry tomatoes, the crispy croutons, the sliced chicken and a scattering of additional shredded cheese.

Hail to the Grill-Panned Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad: 

IMG_5743Hail to the Grill-Panned Chicken Caesar Salad Sandwich too:

IMG_5650Try my Grill-Panned Shrimp Caesar Salad too:

IMG_5839Hail to the Grill Panned Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields 1 large family-style salad or 6 smaller-but-hearty main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List: large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush; nonstick grill pan or skillet; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b02a308dfaf27200cCook's Note:  Whether you're sending kids off to school, looking for something different to lunch on at the office, or yeah baby, a sandwich that will be the hit of your next tailgate party -- this sub has got your back.  It's on my short-list of most-popular house-made deli-style  submarine-type sandwiches.  It's easy-to-make and user-friendly too.  Chop and toss the ingredients together in a bowl, stuff 'em into a sub roll then go to town. It's akin to feasting on a tuna sub, only full of classic Caesar salad flavors and textures.  Try my ~ Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)


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