Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lettuce 101

Making salad has become so easy with pre-washed mixes.  The wide variety of lettuces available at supermarkets and farmer’s markets leaves no excuse for a salad-less dinner.  Produce departments at many supermarket chains have automatic water sprayers that keep vegetables looking fresh but create  water-logged lettuce that shortens its shelf life. It’s important to wash this lettuce and dry it well to get the most out of your purchase.  

When you buy heads of lettuce, (soaked or dry and freshly harvested),  make salads easy to throw together with a little ahead of time prep.  That way clean, crisp lettuce is always at hand for sandwiches, burgers and salads.  This simple cleaning and storage technique comes from Madeleine  Kamman,  one of TV’s early cooking teachers  who  shared food handling methods that were simple and brought out the best in pure dishes. 

Salad spinners are a great tool but to really get clean crisp lettuce add my extra step to absorb extra moisture.  This works with and without a spinner:

  • Pull leaves from head and soak in a large bowl of cold water.  (If using a salad spinner, soak leaves in the outer bucket.)  Stir the lettuce around and if the stem ends are holding a bit of dirt rub lightly with your fingers.  Let lettuce soak ayt least 5 minutes.  This allows any dirt or sand to settle to the bottom of the bowl. 
  • Lift lettuce out of water and place in the spinner’s strainer or a colander.  By lifting the lettuce out, debris that has fallen away stays at the bottom and the leaves come out clean.  
  • If using a spinner, now is the time.  If you do not have a spinner go on to the next step giving each leaf a good shake over the sink to remove excess water.  

  • Lay out 2-3 clean kitchen towels.  (Paper towels can be used here but are not as re-usably green.)  Layer leaves over first towel.  Lay a second towel on top and continue to layer leaves onto towel  until all leaves are used.   
  • Now loosely roll the towels “jelly roll” fashion and place lettuce roll into a large plastic bag (like the ones in produce department).  You can secure the ends of the towels with rubber bands to keep the roll intact. 
  • Place in the refrigerator and let the towels soak up moisture for at least one hour.  The cool humid environment is a perfect atmosphere for crisping lettuce.  After an hour (or overnight) remove the leaves and store in a plastic bag.

    Enjoy your salad days.