Keeping Lettuce Fresh And Convenient
Learn to prepare fresh lettuce and the trick to keeping it fresh to improve its shelf life and convenience.
You can purchase a head of romaine or leaf lettuce for a fraction of the cost of the prepared salad bags, but once you get that lettuce home, what do you do with it? Here is a technique for making head lettuce as convenient to use as bag salads, and which extends its shelf life as well.
You will need a salad spinner or several towels, a gallon-size zipper food storage bag, and paper towels to line the bag.
First, separate the lettuce into individual leaves, removing any brown or mushy spots. Wash the lettuce thoroughly under cool running water, and be sure to remove all grit.
The next step, perhaps the most important, is to dry the lettuce. Any moisture left on the leaves will cause it to spoil more quickly, so get the lettuce as dry as you can. A salad spinner is ideal for this job: you simply place the leaves in the basket, put the cover on, and press the lever or pull the string to spin the basket, literally a "spin dry cycle" for your lettuce. Don't pack the basket too full, or the lettuce won't dry properly. If you don't have a spinner, you can dry your lettuce leaves by laying them in a single layer over a clean, dry towel, and covering them with another towel; roll the towels up gently, leave for a minute or two, and then unroll. The towels should have absorbed most of the moisture from the lettuce.
Unroll four paper towels, keeping them all connected. Fold in half at the middle perforation, then fold each half down again on its perforation. Now place the paper towels into the bag, with the single folded edge going into the bottom of the bag. Place the lettuce in the bag, between the double-thickness layers of the paper towels. At this point, you can tear the lettuce before placing it in the bag, or you can keep the leaves whole, whichever you prefer. Whole leaves gives you a little more flexibility later, for something like lettuce wraps or sandwiches that might require larger pieces. If the head of lettuce was large, you may need two bags to store it all. It's OK to stack the lettuce in the bag, but don't stuff the leaves in. Gentle handling keeps the leaves from bruising, which can cause brown spots down the line.
Close up the zipper top, leaving about two inches open, and carefully squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can, then finish closing up the zipper top to seal it.
Refrigerate the bag, being careful not to let it touch the back or sides of the refrigerator, because lettuce freezes very easily.
Lettuce prepared this way can keep up to a week, as long as the leaves were properly dried before being placed into the bag. Whenever you want a salad, you simply open the bag and take out what you need, being careful to remove as much air as possible when you re-close it.