HowTo: Crisp Lettuce for Salads and Keep It

sd530709So, I’m starting yet another new series of posts.  This is my HowTo series, where I show you how I do some things around the house, or my craft projects, or various other things that I know how to do that other people may not.  (There won’t be any serious math work here, I promise!)

For my inaugural post, I’m going to show you how I prepare lettuce to keep in the fridge.  I like salads; crisp, crunchy, sweet, sour, fruity, collections of random tasty stuff.  However, I used to have a problem with my lettuce going bad, long before I used it all.  Produce isn’t cheap, so this was very disappointing for me.  This method fixed all that.

So, here’s my process.  First, I buy a head of lettuce.  I’m sure this will work on any kind, but I’m partial to green leaf lettuce.  It has darker green leaves, which makes me think it has more vitamins than iceburg or romaine.  Not a nutritionist though, so don’t quote me on that.  Green leaf lettuce tends to have cone-shaped heads, narrow at the stem at the bottom, and spread out due to the thick leaves at the top.  As soon as I get it home, I do this:

  1. Prepare a bowl of ice cubes, ice water, and water from the tap (to finish filling it up). Tear off whole leaves from the base of the head and submerge in the ice water.  Fit as many as you can while still having the top leaves covered in water.  You’ll probably have to do 3 or 4 batches, depending on the size of your head.
  2. If you notice in the above photo, there’s a white thing in the upper right corner.  That’s my salad spinner.  I used to think these were useless unnecessary contraptions, used by yuppies and lazy cooks.  My view has definitely changed.  The first time I tried crisping, I used only paper towels, and wasted almost a whole roll trying to dry lettuce leaves!  Mine’s super cheap, so I recommend getting one, even if you used to think like me.   So step 2 is to run your leaves through the salad spinner.  Don’t overcrowd the spinner.  You’ll probably need to spin in 3 or 4 batches for one full ice water batch.  Also, be careful not to break or tear the leaves.  That will cause them to brown in the fridge.
  3. Now you should have some nice crisp dry leaves.  Pull out some paper towels (or cloth towels if you’re going eco.  I haven’t found any that I like touching my food yet.)  Arrange the leaves on the paper towel like the photo at right.  I alternate the orientation so that when I roll up the paper towel, I don’t get a cone shape.  This makes them fit better in the plastic bag.  Once you have the paper towel full of leaves, roll it up like a yoga mat.sd530710
  4. Place your new lettuce paper towel roll in a gallon size plastic food bag.  (I don’t have any eco suggestions for this one, sorry.)
  5. Repeat the above steps until you’ve gone through the whole head of lettuce.  This process probably takes about half an hour, but then you’ll have lettuce ready for a week or two (however long it takes you to eat through it).  You’ll probably also notice that when you are done, your ice water will have some dirt or sand in it.   You didn’t really want to eat that, did you?  So the process serves two purposes.

To use the lettuce, pull the bag out of the fridge, take out the top roll, unroll it and select your leaves.  Tear them up into a salad, put them on a hamburger, whatever you use lettuce for.  No further prep work.  I like this compared to some other crisping methods I’ve read about because the leaves are ready whenever you want them, and there’s no additional prep work.  Some methods have you crisp right before you eat, but that means you’d be pulling out the salad spinner every time you want to eat salad.  Here, you only have to pull it out when you buy the lettuce.

The bag of lettuce, ready for the fridge

At the moment, I’m buying my lettuce from the supermarket, but the farmer’s market is supposed to start next month, and I’m going to try growing some mixed baby lettuces indoors this spring.  I will definitely try this method on those as well and report back.  If it works, this means that my garden lettuces could potentially last much longer and I wouldn’t always have to wait for new growth to have an interesting salad.