Top Chef U – Lettuce Principles 101


Lettuce Principles 101

My Story

Admit it, lettuce is kind of boring. Yeah, it’s green. Yes, it’s the basis for salads. Yeah, it’s healthy. But to me, lettuce is boring. I eat lettuce because it’s a vegetable, and it’s a way to get me to eat a vegetable. But it needs to have lots of other stuff in that salad for me to be able to choke it down. Between you and me and the internet, if I eat too much of any vegetable at once, I do feel like I’m going to hurl. It better be a chef salad, with lots of other good stuff in it. Or if it’s topping a burger, there better be stuff like cheese and bacon masking the texture of that lettuce.

The Lesson

As a diy home goddess, I kind of felt this lesson was boring too. Carla said lettuce is the most popular and available vegetable in a chef’s world. Well duh, it’s the basis for salads, like I already said.

She did a pretty good job of talking about the four basic lettuce families. And she described how they looked, so you know which one to pick in the grocery store. But I wish she would have had more than one of each family in the picture. After all, there are dozens of varieties, so why not have a couple of each family, even if you are touching just one to showcase? And she gave an idea of what to use each one for.

The Types of Lettuce

So here is a quick chart of what she discussed:

  1. Crisphead lettuce, such as iceberg, is the one I use most often. Of course it has the fewest nutrients! It is light green and mildly flavored and has loosely packed leaves. Best used with a creamy dressing for a classic wedge salad.
  2. Butterhead lettuce such as bibb or boston has good vitamins. Go with the bibb lettuce, it’s easier to find IMHO. It’s a smaller head than iceberg, which is good for smaller families, has a grassy color with tender leaves, and again is loosely packed. Carla says these leaves have a smooth, buttery texture. Well I would hope so, since it’s called butterhead lettuce! I would hope a diy home goddess would not need a professional chef to tell her that! This is the best variety for sandwiches and burgers. Bring on the BLT!
  3. Looseleaf lettuce she said is the most varied, with lots of varieties I can’t even remember. I had to look up what she was saying. She was talking about lollorossa, green leaf, mesclun and frisee. These colors can be anywhere from dark green to red, with curly leaves and delicate flavors. She did not mention any head on these, and these are best for delicate salads.
  4. And of course there is the Romaine lettuce family. This is more substantial and flavorful than the iceberg lettuce that is my favorite. It looks more like celery rib with big leaves than it does a round head of lettuce. These have dark green colors, which gives the appearance of lots of vitamins I guess? Caesar salad baby! And this is the kind of lettuce you would use for stuffed leaves or rolling.

How to Clean and Store

Then she goes into the cleaning and storing. She only went into the steps for ice burg lettuce, which is a little odd. If chefs want us to eat lettuce with taste and nutrients, why are you giving us directions showcasing the worst head? Maybe because it is the one every diy home goddess, as well as every mom, ever uses?

It’s really easy to clean lettuce.

  1. First off, buy the smallest, best looking head you can. You will see why in a minute.
  2. Separate the leaves, kind of fanning them.
  3. Submerge in water.
  4. Cut out the core, cut the head into quarters and agitate.
  5. Dry on a paper towel well, because (HINT HERE) if you don’t dry the leaves, the salad dressing will get watered down!
  6. She insists on using a salad spinner. They are cheap. You can get one on amazon here, if you want, but I personally don’t have room to store it. I just dry it by hand.
  7. Then you wrap the whole leaves in a damp paper towel and put in a plastic bag until ready to use. Doesn’t that sound like you are defeating the purpose of drying them, and then putting them back in water? Then you need to dry them again before you use them. Hmm.
  8. And that’s why you buy the smallest head possible, because you have to prep in advance!

My Idea

One thing that might have made this lesson more interesting was if she had in the background, or on the island, dishes showing how to use the lettuce. Like a stuffed lettuce leaf, or something that had a puree on it. That way we could have visually seen something other than a salad, which is all I could imagine.


  • Here’s a link to Good Housekeeping, the old standby for women learning how to be a diy home goddess.
  • And this link from HTGV is really good because it gives just a quick description, but really good pictures.


Wasn’t this kind of boring? But yeah, I promised to at least give a review of each lesson.

I can’t wait to talk about the next two lessons, because they will be fun. Herbs and spices! I will be reviewing these in detail, and giving you some of my pointers on this stuff to add to your diy home goddess arsenal.

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