Chicken-Fried Pork Belly Ceasar/Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman

It is time again to bring out The Chicken-Fried Pork Belly Salad, which I created in August 2007 in the midst of my fury at the chief icon of American restaurant food: The Chicken Caesar.  Today’s post was sparked by Sam Sifton’s NYTimes magazine column on the Caesar salad, which addresses the fact that few dishes are truly authentic, and he uses the Caesar salad as an example.

For me putting a chicken breast on a perfectly good Caesar is an emblem of American mediocrity, a lack of imagination, and our fear of food (The Shame of the Chicken Caesar Salad). But Sifton, while he makes the unconscionable error of failing to include my Chicken Fried Pork Belly Casear in his list of famous variations, does us a service by telling us a freeing truth: authenticity doesn’t matter.  Cook what you love and serve it as it pleases you, with smoked herring or barbecued beef.  (I do urge all Americans to avoid topping it with chicken breast, protein lite, on moral grounds.)

There are of course original dishes.  The salmon chop, created by David Burke, for instance.  Thomas Keller’s Oysters & Pearls is an original—surely he was the first human to combine tapioca pudding with oysters and caviar.

But authenticity, the fodder of food historians, is ultimately about sentimental nostalgia, a longing for a lost and truer time.  Which is why authenticity is a kind of lie.

So as America lurches into its culinary future, a future 1,000 times more hopeful now than it was a few decades ago, we should look not to an authentic past but rather a genuine present that comprises natural (unprocessed) foods, prepared with sound cooking basics, served to and eaten at a table with the people we love.

The below is my go-to Caesar dressing—garlic and lemon, anchovies and oil.  The above photo shows slabs of pork belly but I think I really will change this dish.  Because I believe a Caesar salad ought to have croutons, I will cut the confited pork belly into cubes the size of large croutons, and garnish the salad with this, so that it appears to be a traditional Caesar, but instead delivers savory unctuousness rather than starch.

The pork belly must be cooked low and slow, to tenderize it, then cooled before you cut it (this can be done six months before you complete the below dish).  You can braise it, but I think you retain more flavor if you confit it, poach it in fat. (Here’s a recipe for duck confit, poached in olive oil, an excellent confiting fat for the modern kitchen; simply replace the duck with some pork belly if you want to follow a recipe.  Here are confit basics, for the basic technique.  There is detailed confit information and technique in Charcuterie.)

And one last note: To make this truly “chicken-fried” you’d soak the pork belly in buttermilk and dredge in peppered flour—that is, if you wanted to make a truly …  authentic … Chicken-Fried Pork Belly Caesar.

The Chicken-Fried Pork Belly Caesar

For the dressing

  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • salt to taste
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 4 anchovies (and more for garnish if you love them whole)
  • 1/4 cup fat from the confit, melted but cooled
  • 1/2 cup canola oil

For the pork belly croutons:

  • 1/2 pound pork belly confit* cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • flour for dredging
  • 2 eggs, uniformly mixed (no white visible)
  • panko for dredging
  • canola or vegetable oil for deep frying
  • 10 ounces romaine lettuce
  • Parmigianno-Reggiano as needed
  1. For the dressing: Combine all ingredients except the oil in a blender and blend, then slowly drizzle in the oil. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  2. Heat the canola oil for deep frying. Dredge pork in flour, then in egg, then in panko. Deep fry till golden brown and crisp, and piping hot inside. Remove to a rack and let them drain as you dress the salad.
  3. Toss whole or cut leaves of romaine with exactly the right amount of dressing. Serve the salad on plates and garnish with the pork belly croutons (and whole anchovies if you wish). Grate cheese generously over the salad.

[*For easy confited pork belly: salt a slab of belly aggressively and season it with quatre epices and smashed garlic overnight, then cover it in fat and cook at 170 degrees F for 10 hours. Allow it to cool then refrigerate till completely chilled.]

If you liked this post on pork belly caesar salad, check out these other links:

© 2011 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2011 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved

 

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37 Wonderful responses to “Chicken-Fried Pork Belly Caesar Salad”

  • AS

    PLEASE employ an editor. The grammatical errors detract from your otherwise thoroughly delightful writing.

    • Cameron S.

      Please be more specific. I do see “Casear”, “caesar”, and one longer sentence could arguably be pared into two sentences I guess. (So as America lurches….)

  • ruhlman

    I just reread and I must be really bad. I can’t find any? Can anyone help my grammar out?

  • MrBelm

    Tony Maws at Craigie on Main has been serving hog jowl croutons for years, but I’ll give the belly croutons a try since jowls are harder to come by.

  • BK

    Michael –
    I’m not expert, but I’m with you. I don’t see any glaring grammatical errors in this article. I’ve read your blog long enough to know that it’s not a chronic issue. Certainly not enough to detract from your thoroughly delightful writing.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Kathy

    Never really thought about the authenticity issue before, but I have to agree with you about the nostalgia factor. It seems like cuisine is in a constant state of flux and evolution as the world gets smaller, new ingredients become more widely available, and new minds are popping up all the time with fresh approaches to treating and combining those ingredients. This strikes me as a good thing! (And if we MUST do Caesar salad with chicken, I’d rather have chicken livers, crispy chicken skin or even chicken feet in my Caesar than chicken breast any day.)

  • Kristen Frederickson

    As an American transplanted in England and therefore sensitive to the glories of pork belly, I loved this post. So I looked REALLY hard for any errors of any kind, and the only one I found was a missing “of” between “list” and “variations” in the second paragraph. Hardly a grammatical error, it’s clearly a missed word, a typo. So chicken-fry on! We’re enjoying it all.

  • Jenn Post

    “But Sifton, while he makes the unconscionable error of failing to include my Chicken Fried Pork Belly Casear in his list [OF] famous variations,…”
    I think this is the only one I saw, but I could be wrong….left off the “OF” in that sentence…as that intentional?

  • ruhlman

    and my friend lee caught the wrack/rack error and the epice/epices error. Love crowd source editing! Many thanks!

  • AJV

    Michael – have you used a slow cooker to confit? If so, did you use olive oil or another fat?

    Thanks!

    PS – I am going to be picking up Charcuterie soon and am looking forward to reading and cooking from it.

  • J.

    Living in Texas, I’m very tired of the authenticity debate. Folks like Diana Kennedy like to tell us Tex-Mex is not authentic. It may not be “authentic,” but it is real and lots of us in South Texas and northern Mexico have been eating it for a long time. Why she feels a need to say it’s not authentic Mexican food is beyond me. If you want to point out that people in different parts of Mexico eat different foods, that’s fine. But what does authenticity have to do with it?

  • Mantonat

    I can’t remember where I read it (maybe even here), but a food writer suggested using traditional instead of authentic because authentic implies only one right way to cook something, while traditional implies capturing the spirit of how the dish was created or is typically served.
    I live in a neighborhood with many Mexican restaurants and grocery stores. There are so many variations of slow-cooked meats, beans, sauces, etc. that it’s really impossible to call any one of them authentic. And yet someone always comes along and claims that so-and-so’s barbacoa or tacos al pastor are not authentic because they don’t taste exactly like the version on the street corner in the Mexican city they visited for a long weekend ten years ago.

  • Elaine

    Just curious about the use of canola rather than olive oil?

    • Thomas Leavitt

      The confit fat is where I think he’s going on this recipe in place of olive oil. I don’t agree with the canola oil for the fact that it is a genetically modified product. I ditched it over two years ago and started using grape-seed as a neutral oil when I found out canola was GMO.

  • Joshua

    Ruhlman, English-major ex-pat in sales and former editorial assistant. None of your supposed errors snagged my attention. Guess I was too busy drooling. Thanks for the ideas. And, for the record, the best episodes of Tony’s “No Reservations” somehow always feature you as a guest. Coincidence?

  • Curtis

    I’ve got a pork confit panini at my deli in Missoula, MT.

  • Abigail Blake

    Thank you, Michael! I’ve been raving about the Cult of Authenticity for a while now and thought maybe I was alone. It’s such a false premise and usually contains more than whiff of snobbery. Who gets to decide what’s authentic? In any given region, preparations vary from house to house, from grandmother to grandmother.

    As an ex-pat cook who enjoys many different cuisines, I also know that ingredients vary from country to country…flour is different in different countries, sugar is different, produce is different, water is different. Even the air is different, as any devotee of San Francisco sourdough will attest. That doesn’t mean you can’t make a thoughtful approximation of a dish outside it’s natural habitat, but it will be different.

  • Stephanie

    hmm. I uhm….sort of violated a Ruhlman Commandment at lunch then. But I really *like* chicken caesars. And if you precook the chicken in cubes they take 45 seconds to make for lunch. My cat is currently licking the bowl….

  • Mike

    Are the anchovies you use the ones packed in oil or in salt? I’ve read that the salt ones are better to use for cooking, but I’ve never been able to find them in a store. I’ve tried my local Whole Foods and some medium-end stores and all they carry are the ones packed in oil.

  • Mr. West

    Nice point. Few things are really authentic/original. Too many chefs try to make something new and just end up with muddled garbage. There is nothing wrong with taking something tried and true and preparing it to the best of your ability. Besides, no two chefs, if allowed, will prepare the same dish in the same way. These variations in style is where we can find real authenticity.

    One area where this really drives me crazy is in the bar. Every restaurant wants a unique drink list. They have 30 “martinis” but not a single REAL martini. Not even an attempt! One trendy Minneapolis restaurant has a Minnesota Mule on the drink list. When pressed as to how it differs from a Moscow Mule, the bartenders claimed it was the vodka. It wasn’t flavors; just top shelf vodka. Turns out I have been making Minnesota Mules all this time.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I am just trying to wrap my head around the title: Chicken Fried Pork Belly Caesar Salad…and what it actually connotes in terms of food/nutrition…what is the true value of eating a dish like this? Is one bite filling or is it best to eat the whole darn thing…is the body a temple and is this considered respect? Don’t go by me cause I am new to Pork by two years being raised in a traditional Jewish Home…but…to me these are 6 words that should never be spoken in one sentence together and represent a dinner entree :))

  • Hungry Native

    People love to criticize. I might’ve punctuated a few things differently, but that’s splitting hairs. Besides, who sees a post on “Chicken-fried pork Caesar salad” and thinks about “grammar”? They can stay home and correct your paper while we eat pork!

  • cpt awkward

    enough with the grammar critiques…this is a food blog. and a damn good one at that.

  • JBL

    The reasons for your hatred of grilled chicken breast on a caeser salad is completely manufactured and irrational– just sayin’.

  • Brad Barnett

    Firstly, I see the iPad/comment tech issue has been solved. Cool. Now, grammar? Seriously? Who cares? I relate to Ruhlman’s food sensibilities. That is my sole purpose for being here. If he didn’t use ANY punctuation I doubt I would notice.

  • Maria

    Ruhlman, you’re a genius. If I never see another chicken caesar salad on a menu it’ll be too soon.

  • Andrew

    “But Sifton, while he makes the unconscionable error of failing to include my Chicken Fried Pork Belly Casear in his list famous variations…”

    should be

    “But Sifton, while he makes the unconscionable error of failing to include my Chicken Fried Pork Belly Casear in his list OF famous variations…”

  • Andrew

    “There are of course original dishes. The salmon chop, created by David Burke, for instance.”

    The second sentence makes no sense as a standalone sentence; these should be combined into a single sentence thus:

    “There are of course original dishes – the salmon chop, created by David Burke, for instance.”

  • Andrew

    “The below is my go to Caesar dressing…”

    should be

    “The below is my go-to Caesar dressing…”

  • Andrew

    “I think you retain more flavor if you confit it, poach it in fat.”

    should be

    “I think you retain more flavor if you confit it (poach it in fat).”

    or

    “I think you retain more flavor if you confit it, or poach it in fat.”