Produce of the Week - Butter Lettuce
sponsored by Coleman Farms
With the recent warmer weather, the lettuces are heading up and rolling out. Butter lettuce should be particularly happy this time of year, producing larger looser heads than during the Winter, and not having to worry about sunburn and heat-induced bitterness, as it will later on.
Butter lettuce, also known as Boston or Bibb (though both Butter and Bibb may be slightly different varieties of Boston) is a loose-heading lettuce with large soft leaves and a fairly mild but persistent, slightly sweet, slightly astringent flavor that makes it a perfect salad base for highlights ranging from fruit (persimmon, (kiwi, pear,apple...), citrus, avocado) to fish (or hard-boiled egg), to nuts to sharp flavors like water cress or an upland cress like Shahi (which is also very nice just now, and a perfect substitute or its cousin watercress). Butter lettuce's soft leaves wilt readily,
so you want to wait until immediately before serving to dress them.
Butter lettuce's uses extend well beyond salads. The large soft outer leaves - sometimes comprising most of the head - can be used as the wrappers in 'lettuce wraps'- toritillaless tacos or whatever. Though there's probably a tendency to put cottage cheese or egg salad into such things, there's no reason to stop there. I was recently at a birthday party where the caterers presented all sorts of nice dishes - bean salad, salsa, couscous, various cheeses, lettuce leaves. They also provided flatware, but had forgot the plates. The solution was lettuce wraps, and all the foods just mentioned, and more, fit between the leaves.
Butter lettuce is also nice in regular sandwiches. You can put quite a bit of it into a sandwich which is still manageable, so that the lettuce becomes an important part of the filling, but one which doesn't overshadow whatever 'main' filling you use, even if it's fairly subtle flavored. As with salads, though, you should consider the lettuce's delicacy, and serve the sandwiches immediately after preparation.
Cooking with lettuce seems often to be overlooked. The large, soft leaves of Butter lettuce are very useful in soups, torn and added just before serving, either stirred into the pot or placed in the individual bowls with the soup added on top. The shredded leaves can also be added to stirr fry just at the end of cooking.
Butter lettuce is available in two varieties, the classic green and the red, shown in the photograph. The differences go beyond color. The leaf texture and tightness of the head of the two varieties seem to respond differently to changing growing conditions, so if you don't see just what you want in green, look at the red, and vice versa.
Photo courtesy of Coleman Farms