Produce of the Week - Forellenschluss
sponsored by Coleman Farms
Again with the lettuce! Well, as we said last week, it's that time of year. Today's subject, Forellenschluss, is particularly happy in Autumn and in Spring. Like it's close relative, standard Romaine, it can put up with cooler weather, and with high Summer, but 'June Gloom' - warmish foggy weather - doesn't agree with it at all. It should be at its peak in the next month or so, producing fairly large, semi-open heads.
Forellenschluss (German for 'Trout end' - referring to the speckles on a trout's tail, that is, its back end) is an Austrian heirloom variety of Romaine. Its close kinship to standard Romaine is evident from the structure of the head, formed of fairly straight leaves with a prominent central stalk or 'vein', and more than twice as long as they are wide. The leaves of Forellenschluss are robust compared to those of, say, Butter lettuce, but are less rigid and tenderer than those of standard Romaine.
The salient visual characteristic of Forellenschluss is the eponymous spots or blotches, ranging in color from a dark rusty brown on the yellow-green outer leaves to pomagrante red on the nearly white inner ones.
This coloring can be used to good effect to decorate a salad or if the leaves are used to line a serving dish or as covers for 'lettuce wraps'. A note of caution, however: spotted lettuce is unfamiliar to many diners, some of whom might interpret the dark spots on the outer leaves as signs of spoilage, and be reluctant to eat your salad, so you may want to be ready with explanation and encouragement.
Standard Romaine is probably the most vegetable-like lettuce (unless you include Escarole among the lettuces), resolutely crisp, its flavor focussed on its Milkweed ancestry. Forellenschluss is a bit more like an ideal lettuce - the leaves are softer, the central vein less prominent, the flavor more complex than standard Romaine, with suggestions of fruit and nuts and of that suede-like astringency found in Butter lettuce. By texture and flavor Forellenschluss is a better mixer than standard Romaine. Romaine can enhance a mixed salad by adding points of crispness and sharp flavor; Forellenschluss is, except visually, more subtle, adding a background of complexity to the flavor and a more general crispness to the texture of a salad. It also seems to hold thinner dressings better than standard Romaine.
Like Romaine, Forellenschluss is good in sandwiches, hardy enough to tough it out from morning until lunchtime, if need be, with a sufficiently assertive flavor to provide leafy foil for a variety of fillings. And, as we mentioned above, the outer leaves are well-suited as a serving medium, either 'stuffed' - that is, lying flat with dollops of filling on top, or as the outer of a 'wrap', where their oblongness, visual properties, malleability and flavor suit them well to the task.
Supermarket lettuce, even in "super" markets pushing USDA organic produce, tends to be restricted to a few varieties: red and green loose leaf, butter, Romaine, and Iceberg. There's so much more, and the differences go well beyond looks, as a comparison of Forellenschluss to its close relative standard Romaine will show.
Photo courtesy of Coleman Farms
Spring photo, courtesy of G Bradshaw