What Is Fried Lettuce?

Wanda Marie Thibodeaux

Fried lettuce is a meal or side of lettuce briefly heated in a frying pan. Chefs prepare it with oils and seasonings of their choice. Although ingredients are similar to regular cold salads, people like fried lettuce because the heating subtly brings out the sweetness of the plant, making the greens less bitter and more enjoyable to eat. A chef also might prepare fried lettuce as a better accompaniment other heated foods.

A frying pan, which can be used to make fried lettuce.
A frying pan, which can be used to make fried lettuce.

To make fried lettuce, a chef heats a small amount of oil in a frying pan. If the fried rice recipe calls for ingredients such as onions, seeds, nuts or potatoes, the chef stir-fries them in the oil before adding the lettuce to ensure they are cooked to the proper degree. Once he adds the lettuce, he leaves it in the pan only until the lettuce starts to gain color or slightly wilts, which takes one to five minutes depending on the type of lettuce and amount of heat used. The final step is to add any additional coatings or seasonings such as cooking sherry, rice wine, soy sauce and salt and pepper, tossing the lettuce until distribution is even.

Fried lettuce can be made with heart-friendly peanut oil, which has a high smoking point.
Fried lettuce can be made with heart-friendly peanut oil, which has a high smoking point.

Once a chef has fried lettuce ready, he must serve it immediately, preferably on a warmed plate. This is necessary because lettuce, similar to other greens, cools quickly. As the lettuce uses heat, moisture is also drawn away from the dish, causing wilting.

Although any lettuce technically is acceptable for frying, the best lettuces are those that are crisp with a firm stem, such as Romaine. These lettuces have a structure that better stands up to the heat of cooking and are less likely to wilt as easily. Leafy curled lettuce varieties don't work quite as well but might have a flavor or color the chef truly wants. The nutritional value of the lettuce variety is another consideration when making the dish. No matter what lettuce is selected, the chef should dry it after preparatory washing to prevent the lettuce from braising instead of frying properly.

One factor that drastically can change the flavor of fried lettuce is the oil in which it is cooked. For a basic version, virgin or extra virgin olive oil is fine, but a chef might want something different depending on what else is fried with the lettuce. For instance, if the chef wants to add chopped, toasted peanuts, peanut oil might work better.

Fried lettuce works well by itself, but it also can be used as a salad bed for other foods, such as fried rice or fish. It works well in Asian cuisine, but because of the variety of recipes available, chefs all over the world can use this way to prepare lettuce. It can take some time for people to get used to the idea that cooked lettuce will not be mushy, however, and people might see the dish as an oddity at first depending on their culture and culinary background.

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