‘So often, simple ingredients like the little gem lettuce get overlooked,” says Raymond Blanc. “Or we get stuck with the same ideas – such as using the leaves to bulk out salads – out of habit.”
The Michelin-starred chef behind the Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons restaurant and cookbook author wants us to be a little more imaginative when it comes to this versatile leaf.
Here are five of his suggestions that go beyond a side salad.
Quick, simple slaw
“Slice a little gem lettuce thinly and dress with a light Dijon mayonnaise. It can be used to top your sandwiches and burgers or for a quick ‘coleslaw’. By tossing the lettuce in the Dijon mayonnaise, the lettuce will hold on to it and prevent the mayonnaise from leaking out of your sandwich or burger.”
Charred gem Caesar salad
“Cut a head of lettuce into quarters and grill them for one minute on each cut side over a barbecue or a hot griddle pan. The idea is to char the lettuce without cooking it, keeping it nice and crunchy. You can then use this in a classic Caesar salad to give an added texture and flavour.”
Peas à la Française
“Separate the gem leaves. Quarter a few baby onions and cook them in melted butter in a frying pan until they are soft. Add a handful of fresh or frozen peas, some broad beans, the gem lettuce leaves and a pinch of salt, and cook for two minutes until tender.”
Gem lettuce canapés
“Use the smaller leaves as vessels for delicious canapés, filled with fresh crab, prawns and garlic aioli, or diced new potatoes, roasted peppers and spring onions.”
“Take three or four gem lettuces and cut them into six lengthways through the core. Place in a tight-fitting one-litre jar. In a saucepan, make a light pickling liquor with 250ml water, 250ml white wine vinegar, 100g caster sugar, a pinch of salt and some herbs and spices – I use anything, including bay leaves, tarragon, parsley stalks, coriander, fennel and cumin seeds. Bring to a simmer, leave to cool slightly and pour over the lettuce. Seal the jar with a lid and store in the fridge overnight. The lettuce can be kept and enjoyed for up to a month. It’s great with cold cuts of meats, cheeses and hot smoked fish.”