Lettuce should have a good crunch, right? Yes, sometimes. But add a little heat, oil, and aromatics, and lettuce can take on a whole new set of flavors and textures.
Cooking lettuce is a long-practiced technique in Chinese and Asian American cuisines. Among these communities, vegetables are less commonly eaten raw, often stir-fried or blanched instead.
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In Chinese culture, stir-fried lettuce is also a symbol of luck and is often served at Lunar New Year (in Mandarin, the word for lettuce is a homonym for “wealth”). Cooked lettuce is one of my favorite ways to quickly infuse flavor (and luck) into weeknight meals, paired with a simple protein or simply spooned atop rice.
Lettuce transforms dramatically under heat, which breaks down the stems and leaves to create a silky, tender-crisp texture. Additionally, the lettuce’s vegetal flavors become more mellow and sweet. The most commonly used lettuces for cooking are romaine, iceberg, and A-choy (a Taiwanese lettuce, commonly found in Chinese supermarkets in the U.S.). These varieties have a sturdier texture and higher water content that can hold up in the heat; avoid using delicate types such as butterhead lettuce or spring mixes.
Grilled Caesar SaladA smoky char makes this classic American salad better than ever. But must you give up crispness to get smokiness?
Borrowing from popular Chinese dishes, the leaves and stems can either be chopped and stir-fried on high heat or briefly blanched in boiling water and dressed. Common aromatics include minced garlic, oyster sauce, or fermented bean curd, which can be cooked in oil before adding lettuce to a stir-fry or stirred into a dressing.
Try our Cast Iron–Seared Romaine with Oyster Sauce, Ginger, and Sesame for a visually stunning version with similar flavors or our Grilled Caesar on the outdoor grill. Or for a more complete meal, try a Chinese American takeout classic: Finely chop some iceberg lettuce and wilt into fried rice for a pop of freshness.