Đánh giá về It’s Time to Admit That Iceberg Is a Superior Lettuce
There are many categories of salad snob—the ingredient minimalists, the chop evangelists, the dressing-goes-in-the-bowl-first brigade—but perhaps the most vocal, and the most misguided, are those dedicated to the denigration of iceberg lettuce. To its detractors, iceberg is the avatar of commodity gastronomy—“the polyester of lettuces” is a popular gibe. The influential Times food editor Craig Claiborne famously loathed it. “It is omnipresent,” Alice Waters, goddess of the farmer’s market, sniffed in a 2001 interview. “It doesn’t have a season,” she said. “It doesn’t have a sense of place.” The only thing iceberg really has going for it is durability, this line of thinking goes—it’s a lettuce for growers, shippers, warehousers, and sellers, not a lettuce for eaters. But, like its glacial namesake, iceberg lettuce has a lot more going on beneath the surface. For starters, it’s far from flavorless: focus your palate as you take a bite and notice a clean sweetness blooming beneath the watery crunch, deepening, in the pale ruffle of the inner leaves and stems, to a toasty bitterness, with whispers of caraway and coriander seeds.
One of a variety of cabbage-like lettuces called crisphead, iceberg is distinguished by thick interior leaves that are forced, as they grow, into fractal labyrinths, which fold over and back on themselves until they are a self-supporting mass. It was developed by W. Atlee Burpee & Company in the late eighteen-hundreds, and for the next three quarters of a century was the undisputed queen of American salad greens. (The common story of its name—that it refers to the beds of ice in which the lettuce was shipped in the twenties and thirties—is pure American horseshit, a myth likely originating with Bruce Church, a Depression-era farmer and formidable salesman who founded what is now Fresh Express, one of the country’s largest lettuce distributors.) Despite falling out of favor beginning in the nineteen-seventies, as other alternatives were successfully marketed as both more nutritional and less banal, it has remained America’s most-consumed lettuce, withstanding hearty challenges from arugula, mesclun mix, and—most formidably—romaine and kale, which have largely supplanted it as the greens of choice for homemade salads. (Even if romaine, the Caesar standby, has been felled this year by an outbreak of E. coli.) Iceberg’s structural rigidity means that its crunch can be preserved under even the most extreme conditions, such as beneath a spackle of guacamole inside a taco shell, or within the steamy, ketchupy confines of a hamburger bun.
Yet iceberg has never quite managed to secure a place in the gourmet pantry. It seems perpetually on the verge of “making something of a comeback,” as the writer Julia Reed noted in the Times all the way back in 2003, but there has been little actual progress to point to. The only iceberg dish that reliably pleases the skeptics is the classic wedge salad, with its irresistible combination of salt, fat, and thunderous crunch. “A retro delight,” the Times food editor Sam Sifton wrote in a recent article noting cheffy interpretations of the dish. (Mimi Sheraton, one of the grandes dames of restaurant writing, was unpersuaded. “Can’t find iceberg lettuce for Sam Sifton’s recipe in NYTMag?” she tweeted. “Substitute waxed paper.”)
A wedge is a brash used-car salesman of a salad, a primal dish—a rare thing for a plate of raw greens to be. I’ll order one at any opportunity, especially with a tart buttermilk dressing, crumbles of Maytag blue, chewy bacon lardons, and dice-size cubes of firm, ripe tomato (enough already with the fussy halved cherry tomatoes skidding around a slippery plate). But iceberg’s textural vigor and subtle flavor deserve broader applications. The lettuce can be sliced into dramatic circular coasters, lightly oiled, and grilled to a char; it can be chiffonaded into noodle-like ribbons and wilted in broth; it can be braised in butter, like endives or leeks, as the Japanese chef Shinsuke Nakatani has done at his namesake restaurant in Paris; it can be torn into bite-size pieces and stir-fried with scallions and garlic—a Cantonese classic often served for Chinese New Year.
Lately, my favorite thing to do with iceberg is pickle it. Most of the greens we’re accustomed to eating raw are bred for softness and delicacy, which means that pickling can go horribly wrong; last year, at a beloved Brooklyn restaurant, I ordered a special of “pickled baby gems” that arrived looking, and tasting, like yesterday’s salad after a night in the fridge, a drab mess of wilt and slime and faded vinaigrette. There’s no such risk with the pale-green heart of an iceberg: that gloriously rigid geometry is made for a brine bath; as with cucumbers, onions, or pole beans, a day or two of pickling magically crisps things up even more, and adds a ravishingly salty bite. Use pickled iceberg anywhere you’d employ pickled onions or cucumbers: on sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and tacos, adding a bracing jolt of vinegar to a summer salad, or piled up alongside grilled meats.
I recently used the pickles as the garnish for a creamy, chilled lettuce soup—made from the darker, softer outer leaves of the same head of lettuce, a deeply fulfilling culinary efficiency. The soup, jolted out of the tedium of luncheon food with a spike of hot sauce, chills in the fridge right next to the pickles. After a day or two, finely slice the pickled hearts, pile them up in shallow bowls, and pour the chilled soup in a moat around them, so that the top of the mountain of greens peeks up above the surface just like—well, like an iceberg. The result is not polyester at all; it’s pure silk.
Makes 2 quarts
1 cup apple cider vinegar or white vinegar3 tbsp. kosher salt1 tbsp. sugar½ tbsp. whole black peppercorns1 head iceberg lettuce4 large cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
1. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, salt, sugar, and peppercorns, plus 2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat and allow brine to cool to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes.
2. While the brine is cooking, slice the lettuce into quarters, through the stem, and peel off the outer leaves until only the pale, dense hearts remain. (The removed leaves should be about equal in volume to the remaining hearts; reserve them for making chilled iceberg soup, or use them on sandwiches or in salads.) Trim any protruding stems on the quartered hearts to be flush with the lettuce.
3. Tightly pack the lettuce quarters into well-cleaned quart jars, slicing the lettuce into even thinner wedges if necessary, and tuck the garlic cloves among the lettuce wedges. Slowly pour in the room-temperature brine until lettuce is fully covered. (Discard any unused brine, or reserve for another use.) Seal the jar, then gently swirl and shake it to make sure the brine reaches every bit of the lettuce. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, and up to one week. The pickles are at their best after one or two days, when they’re at the peak of flavor and still shatteringly crunchy; after that, the texture will begin to soften.
2 tbsp. butterMedium onion, roughly chopped2-3 cloves garlic, roughly choppedAbout 4 cups iceberg lettuce, particularly the darker green outer leaves, torn into small pieces or roughly choppedKosher salt3 cups chicken or vegetable stock, chilled½ cup heavy creamHot sauce, such as TabascoPickled iceberg hearts, for serving
1. In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, cooking gently until onions are translucent but have not begun to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the lettuce leaves and a generous pinch of salt; cook, tossing occasionally, until the lettuce is just beginning to darken and wilt, about 3 minutes.
2. Transfer the lettuce mixture to the bowl of a blender or food processor. Add a little bit of the chilled stock, and blend until completely puréed. Add the remaining stock and the heavy cream, and blend to incorporate. Add salt and hot sauce, a little at a time, always blending before tasting, until the salt is just at the foreground of the flavor and the heat flickers around the edges (the quantities of salt and hot sauce used will vary depending on your palate, and on how fiery your hot sauce is). Transfer the soup to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to four days. The soup may separate as it sits; stir or shake to reincorporate. Taste the soup just before serving to adjust for salt or heat. (For a smoother soup, pass through a fine-mesh strainer before serving.)
3. To serve, remove the iceberg pickles from their brine and finely slice, crosswise, into lacy ribbons. Divide equal portions of pickled lettuce between individual shallow bowls, and pour the chilled soup around the lettuce.
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