Lettuce

Lettuce

By
From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

It is as true today as when John Evelyn wrote it in the 17th century that ‘the lettuce ever was and still continues the principal foundation of the universal Tribe of Salads, which is to cool and refresh’. This first family of leafy salad greens has numerous members, of which the best known are long and slender cos (romaine), round, crisp, pale-green iceberg and soft bronze-edged mignonette.

When buying lettuce, look for fresh, unwilted heads with no discolouration. Check that the centre is sound. If you want to keep it for several days before using, remove any damaged outside leaves, place unwashed in a plastic bag and gently squeeze out air. Fasten tightly and refrigerate. If using the same day, wash, dry and store as follows.

See also Mesclun; Radicchio.

Basic preparation: Remove any damaged or coarse outside leaves (they can be used for soup). Cut out the core and hold upside-down under running cold water. The water will help you to spread the leaves gently so that you can separate them whole. Break off thick base of each centre rib, wash leaves and drain. If you want smaller pieces, tear lettuce rather than cutting it, as cut edges darken. Dry thoroughly. This is best done in one of those wonderful salad dryers that work like hand-operated spin-dryers. Otherwise, you can put lettuce into a salad basket or fold it in a dish towel and swing vigorously outdoors, or shake over a sink. Pack loosely into plastic bags, close and refrigerate for at least an hour to crisp. When making a salad, do not add dressing to lettuce until the last moment or it will lose its crispness.

Ways to use lettuce: Lettuce stars alone in great salads such as Caesar Salad or classic green salads (see Salads), and provides a base for other ingredients of every kind. Tiny lettuce leaves or the fine shreds called chiffonnade are among the prettiest garnishes. In addition to its many roles as a raw vegetable, lettuce makes a delicately flavoured soup, a meltingly tender braised vegetable or a delicious last-minute addition to a lamb casserole. Blanched lettuce leaves can be used to wrap other food, and lettuce is an essential ingredient in the epicurean green pea dish Petits Pois à la Française

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
see method for ingredients

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