Lettuce, in the west, is pretty much exclusively thought of as a salad vegetable and always eaten cold. In Chinese cookery, however, it most commonly appears cooked and, indeed, has, traditionally at least, never been eaten raw. It is a bit unfortunate, really, that we haven’t cottoned on to the idea of cooking our lettuce once in a while as the process actually brings out flavors that are often missed. Today, I am showing you a simple preparation illustrating a common sort of dish…
The first step is to trim away any browned or wilted bits from your lettuce leaves and cut any very large leaves in half. Lettuce loses a lot of volume when wilted by cooking and about a quarter of a medium sized head per person is probably a good amount for service as a side-dish.
Lettuce braised with oyster sauce is a very common preparation and I am using it here today. In this case, I have stirred a tablespoon of oyster sauce into 4 tablespoons of rice wine. You could, if you like, add cornstarch to some chicken stock (either with or without added oyster sauce) and use this as a sauce base instead. Today, I am also using some chopped garlic and scallion.
To cook, heat a little oil in a pan over moderately high heat. If using scallion, or garlic, or both, then add them and sauté until you can smell the aroma.
Now add your lettuce leaves and toss in the oil. After a few seconds, you will see that the green of the lettuce brightens prettily and becomes more vivid. At this point, you add your braising liquid.
The steam from the liquid will quickly cause the lettuce to wilt. Toss and stir until all the pieces are softened and then transfer everything to a suitable serving platter immediately so that the bright color is preserved.