Just as we’ve shown you the joy of simplicity that was classic James Beard in our
posts Wilted Celery Salad, Spaghetti with Raisins and Pine Nut Sauce, and Spice Winter Squash, from his newest book The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking, by James Beard; edited by Rick Rodgers with John Ferrone (see our full review here), Beard also had a penchant for the unique and clever, though never straying from the idea that any home cook could turn out exquisite meals. That idea is perfectly captured in his Braised Lettuce recipe, that gives a nice lift to any roasted meats. Any TSTE Bird Brine spice mix you have leftover gives the recipe a nice little boost, as well.
Beard, in his classic voice, talks you through what should be a complicated process. He manages to keep it simple so anyone can find success on their first attempt. This dish, we suspect is the precursor to what many chefs use in their kitchens today – wilted spinach or salads, or those famous grilled lettuces. What is most astonishing is the amount of flavor you can layer in with Beard’s technique. Suddenly supper or better yet leftovers – especially that frozen Thanksgiving turkey – becomes interesting once again.
The Spice & Tea Exchange® with permission from St. Martin’s Press and James Beard House, updates Beard’s Braised Lettuce with the simple addition of TSTE Bird Brine. While Thanksgiving may be over, keeping some Bird Brine on hand is never a bad idea. We find in the winter months, brining any poultry or pork is a nice way to keep things moist during the cooking process. Of course, using the Bird Brine in applications such as Beard’s isn’t a bad idea either.
Remember to enter our Cookbook Giveaway for your chance to win a copy of The Essential James Beard Cookbook: 450 Recipes That Shaped the Tradition of American Cooking by commenting on any of The Essential James Beard Cookbook posts between now and December 1st (full details here).
Makes 6 servings
This leafy vegetable is extraordinarily good braised and served with lamb, beef, game, and roast or braised chicken. I have found that the old recipes for braised lettuce give too long a cooking time, so I have formulated my own somewhat revolutionary way of preparing it, which, to my palate, produces a pleasanter result.
6 heads of Boston or Bibb lettuce
2 leeks or 2 medium yellow onions
TSTE Bird Brine (salt and sugar mixture along with spice packet)
8 ounces sliced bacon
3 cups Chicken Stock, Beef Stock, or Veal Stock, as needed
4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) unsalted butter
TSTE Florida Sunshine Grinder Salt Blend and TSTE Four Peppercorn Grinder Blend, to season
Remove the outer leaves from the lettuce, then wash the heads under cold running water, pulling the leaves apart to loosen them and wash away all sand between them (this is especially important with Bibb lettuce, which is usually very sandy). Wrap the heads in paper towels to dry. Trim the root end and all but 1 inch of the green top from the leeks and wash them well under cold running water, separating the leaves to rinse out lurking sand. Dry and cut into fine julienne (matchstick-size) strips. If
leeks are not available, use onions, peeled and thinly sliced. Peel the carrots and also cut into julienne strips. Arrange the carrots and leeks or onions in a layer in a heavy skillet
Combine 1/3 cup of TSTE Bird Brine salt and sugar mixture with the stock, then add in about 1 tablespoon (or more to taste) of the spice mixture. Pour over the vegetables and top with 2 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces. Arrange the lettuce heads on top and cover with the remaining bacon slices. Add additional stock if necessary to barely cover the lettuce. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes, or until just tender and pierceable (Bibb lettuce, which is more compact, with heavier leaves, sometimes takes longer to cook than Boston). Carefully remove the lettuce heads with wooden spoons or tongs and drain on paper towels. Strain the stock. It may be saved and used for soups or stews.
Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the drained lettuce, and reheat in the butter for a minute or two. Season with Florida Sunshine and Four Peppercorn grinder blends. Transfer the braised lettuce to a heated serving dish and spoon some of the butter over it.