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Don't rip romaine? [moved from General Topics]

I just read an interesting tidbit in Reader's Digest from a book '101 Things I Learned in Culinary School.' It says, "Rip, don't cut salad greens (except romaine)."

The book may go in to more detail, but I was just curious as to this info. I've long heard that it's better not to cut lettuce. Are they implying that you *shouldn't* rip romaine, or just that it doesn't turn brown if you do?

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  1. Lately I've been cutting romaine into a thick chiffonade, I like it that way and besides, it's just hell to try to tear it that way.

    I think it's the high-carbon knife thing that tends to turn the edges dark, but not if you eat it fairly soon.

    1. I always slice romaine. If te heads are very tight, I'll wash the outside, slice them lengthwise in half, and then slice appropriately wide for the salad I'm making. Large heads, or romaine out of the garden (at our house we pick most of our salad greens by the leaf), I'll wash in deep water then spin dry, then stack and slice. Sliced it always seems more uniform and more crunchy to me.

      1. This is slightly OT, but I discovered that if you cut the stem end off romaine and other head lettuces and rest in a bowl of cool water it will perk up like you wouldn't believe, like wilted flowers with the stems cut and plunged into water. Takes a couple of hours, but well worth it.

        1. I suspect they meant to write "iceberg" instead of "romaine."

          Anyway, smaller romaine leaves were traditionally not even cut, but eaten whole.

          10 Replies
            1. re: junescook

              The "they" I was referring to was the authors the OP was quoting - are you one of them? And, if so, could you then explain why romaine was uniquely excepted?

              1. re: Karl S

                I think you'd need to write to Reader's Digest to tell them that they're wrong. I (like EWSf) was telling the OP how I prepare "romaine" and wanted to make that clear vis-a-vis your taking the liberty of correcting us.

                1. re: junescook

                  I wasn't correcting you, I was suspecting that Reader's Digest (or the authors of the book it cribbed) might have meant iceberg (having been an editor in other contexts, I've seen much stranger errors occur). Of all salad greens, it is the one that is least likely to be ripped instead of cut. Sheez.

                  1. re: Karl S

                    Heck, I didn't even know that they were still making iceberg.

                    Thanks for the clarification though.

                    1. re: junescook

                      Iceberg wedge salads made a huge comeback on restaurant menus in the Naughties.

                      While there are applications of iceberg that involve removing individual leaves (as for wraps, or the very old and largely bygone practice of dipping them in sugar to quench summer heat), iceberg is overwhelmingly cut by knife, either to shred or wedge, while romaine is very frequently recommended to be torn for certain salads. Hence my suspicion about an editorial goof-it may have been an editor who likewise forgot iceberg was still being made and confused it for romaine.

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Seriously, Karl_S, I really have heard about the steak places doing the wedges with the K Island or the Blue cheese along with the creamed spinach, etc., etc.,. Mke Colomeko mentions some of those in his new book, I think it is actually making a reprise. Nonetheless, We're not growing it in our garden. Are you?

                        1. re: junescook

                          I grow batavia lettuce, which is a parent of iceberg. I like to have lettuce that doesn't bolt in the summer. I have other cool-weather varieties, of course. I like iceberg for certain purposes very much.

                          1. re: junescook

                            Apropos of this discussion, from the NY Times Food section this week:


              2. re: Karl S

                Certainly true in the original Caesar salad.

              3. I dislike the ribs, so I always rip the large romaine leaves when I'm making Caesar salad, and throw the ribs out. Have never had any discoloration or complaints.

                1. Personal pet peeve: a romaine salad with whole leaves. I was brought up that you never cut your salad at the table, and it still feels wrong to do it. Also ups the chances of spritzing my shirt with the oil in the dressing.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: LulusMom

                    My favorite Caesar salad presentation is to leave the leaves (!) whole and you pick them up to eat. I thought my mother had warped me with every possible table manner but I never heard that you're not supposed to cut salad at the table. Really? Why would salad be any different than any other food? Serious inquiry.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Salad is supposed to be prepared and presented so that it does not require cutting at table by the diner; of course, this rule is often most honored in the breach. Caesar salad was classically eaten by finger rather than fork - the leaves would be left undressed at the end to permit this.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        The torn salad presentation took hold at the tail end of the 19th century in America, as dressed salads were considered messy, and to "subdue the raw greens until they bore as little resemblance as possible to their natural state. If a plain green salad was called for, the experts tried to avoid simply letting a disorganized pile of leaves drop messily onto the plate..."* was the popular "controlled" style. Says something about the mindset of the population then, what with the popularity of manifest destiny and all. The style's just stuck with food fashion, and it's been accepted as part of popular culture and passed on. Wait 50-100 years for table manners to change.

                        Besides, it's rather practical, as bite-sized pieces are easier to pop in the mouth. Cutting dressed lettuce often has some consequences, with splashed dressing and that. Not only, but there's a certain aesthetic appearance of how torn salads look on the plate, vs large or whole leaves.

                        Salads were eaten by the Greeks, Romans, other cultures and during the Middle Ages; although somewhat different ingredients were used then, salads were a mix of greens and herbs not unrecognizable to us, dressed in the manner similar to what we use today. The French King Louis XIV liked composed salads and pickled stuff, among other styles.

                        IIRC from culinary school, salads eating is tradition going back centuries, to the Middle Ages, when proper utensils for cooking and eating were not so plentiful, excepting knives, and not everyone had one of those at the table to cut food with. Most meals were eaten with the fingers anyway. Much of the greens and herbs used back then were not the big leaves of lettuce we have today, more like field greens than romaine or iceberg.

                        Mm, next time I have a Caesar Salad out I'm going to consume it with my fingers and see what reaction I get. Even in Brooklyn, I'm sure there will be something said by someone. I think the deal is that the smaller inner romaine leaves, or baby romaine, are the classic ones used for the pick up and eat Caesar salad, not the big outer leaves.

                        *Quote from The Food Timeline

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          I think The Food Timeline person should relax and pick up those romaine leaves as I do.

                          And if the torn greens are still larger than I prefer, is it alright or not alright to cut them again??? Actually I don't give a shit about that :)

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Eat how you wish. It's better to cut than try to stuff a too-big leaf in your mouth anyway. I can't say I've never cut my salad...

                            The Food Timeline site is quite a factoid overload, btw.

                          2. re: bushwickgirl

                            I never knew any of the reasoning, but was definitely taught that it was a no-no. Now, as an adult who doesn't really need to care what mom thinks, I just care because I hate splashing oil all over my shirts. I'm not an especially messy eater, but I can't tell you how many shirts I've ruined this way. Note to self: learn how to eat salad like normal human being.

                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                              Use leaves from the heart of romaine, not the big outer leaves or baby romaine, for that salad.

                              1. re: Karl S

                                Yes, my point was that the small leaves are the accepted romaine for the eating-with-fingers version of Caesar, but restaurants don't always offer that leaf option, it's usually torn larger pieces and dressed to death.

                                I worked at a place where we used baby red and green romaine, did not tear, and piled the salad up (it was back during the 90's "tall" food phase) to great heights, no need to cut.

                              2. re: bushwickgirl

                                We were served heads of young romaine between courses at a family holiday meal we were invited to in southern Italy. the heads were simply handed around, one removed however much one wanted, and passed it on. The leaves were eaten with the fingers as well; seems to me we had oil and salt for dipping, but it's been almost thirty years...

                                The big romaine I get in supermarkets I used to rip the leaves off their stems and tear them up, but then I discovered that cutting across the head into a chiffonade gave me a much tastier green with much less work. The stalks are quite tasty when they're in 1/4" (or less) slices!

                              3. re: c oliver

                                My understanding of the rule that you never used a knife to cut your salad at the table derives from the fact that traditionally the knife blade was glued into the handle and the acidic dressing would weaken the glue -- same reason you don't put the knives from the "family" silver into the dishwasher. With the advent of modern knife-making, the rule is obsolete. Certainly I've been at many fine restaurants, where a knife is provided along with a fork for the salad course. Generally, when I am preparing a salad, I try to tear the greens into bite-size pieces. But, as a diner, if confronted with a salad in which the leaves are too big (and I have a small mouth, so that is not uncommon), I'd rather use a knife than have an awkward time struggling to eat.

                            2. I disagree with RD, no large-leafed lettuce types should be cut with a knife, always "torn" (read ripped, torn is the proper descriptive word) regardless of variety; including romaine, iceberg, Boston, butter, whatever; unless you're doing a chiffonade or shredding for another purpose, like tacos or the wedge salad thing currently making a comeback. The coarser ribs (of romaine) should be removed. So romaine is not exempt from being torn. Torn lettuce, aside from not browning at the cut edge, just looks more natural on the plate.

                              The smaller leaves, from baby romaine to other specialty field lettuces, don't need any deconstruction. Think about how big your mouth is; the lettuce pieces should be bite-sized.

                              This is one of the101 things I personally learned in culinary school.

                              18 Replies
                              1. re: bushwickgirl

                                Hi there! Just curious: is appearence the only reasoning behind tearing rather than cutting? Is it for visual/presentation/style reasons or is there a taste factor? I ask because my mom always tears her leaves and for some reason I like mine better chopped with a knife. I do this for all kinds of lettuce and I have never noticed any real taste difference. I just like the appearance better chopped and it is faster to stack up the leaves and use a knife. Just wondering if this was a matter of style or if I am missing something. Thanks!

                                1. re: LolaP

                                  Nah, you're not missing anything. No difference in taste between chopped, cut up or torn, but taste is a big part of appearance, as in if something looks good on the plate, to the consumer, then it may surely taste good as well.

                                  It's subject and a purely personal choice.

                                2. re: bushwickgirl

                                  I have never, in 60 years, encountered torn iceberg lettuce.

                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    And I'd never encountered it cut until maybe 20 years ago. always torn. Funny, huh?

                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                      You've had torn iceberg? I've never seen or heard of such a thing. I can't even visualize it.

                                        1. re: LulusMom

                                          So have I, LLM.
                                          CO: Hold the iceberg lettuce securely in both hands over a cutting board or counter with the core end pointing down...plunk the lettuce with some force on the board... the core loosens and comes right out. Simply grasp each side of the empty core hole and pull to divide the halves. Tear/pull sections of the lettuce apart, rinse, dry, and there you are.

                                          1. re: Gio

                                            I think someone mentioned here that it's the crunch factor in iceberg is the only reason I'd eat it. So I'd never WANT to have it torn. Guess I never considered why I don't like so many of the salads that come with a meal in run of the mill restaurants. Different strokes.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Not to worry - it can still be crunchy when torn. Not trying to convert you though - just pointing it out.

                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                Thanks, LM. All this talk of iceberg lettuce has gotten me in the mood for an in-season BLT which is months away. I slice my lettuce for that :)

                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  See, and I pull off the leaves and if they're too big, I simply tear them. Thats why they make chocolate AND vanilla.

                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                CO... I don't want you to think we only make salads with iceberg, we don't. Romaine is in the fridge every week, as is escarole and all sorts of mesclun mixes throughout the season. My favorites are Boston/Bib and Mache, Sometimes I tear, sometimes I slice, depending on the type of salad I'm making. DH likes the ever popular wedge with chunky blue cheese dressing.

                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  Same here - iceberg is bought for sandwiches and def. for the always loved wedge salad (in which, yes, I'll cut it).

                                                  1. re: Gio

                                                    My dear Gio, I certainly never thought that you're a one-trick pony. I'd grass from your fridge any day.

                                                    1. re: Gio

                                                      I chef friend gave me a taste of the mache he'd just harvested from his garden yesterday. I love this lettuce!

                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                        Oh... and Mache is so very easy to grow. Sometimes mine overwinters even in my zone 6A garden!

                                              3. re: c oliver

                                                What's hard to visualize? Take a leaf of lettuce. Tear, don't cut. Hey, presto, you've got torn iceberg. I had some on an egg salad sandwich yesterday. It was lovely.

                                                1. re: Chris VR

                                                  Exactly. I like a mix of lettuces in my salad (we like a BIG salad once a week for dinner). A mix of green leaf, red leaf, whatever else is around and iceberg for crunch. All torn. And the iceberg is crunchy when torn.

                                        2. I have made a ceasar salad for a buffet where I shredded the inner leaves of romaine, dressed & tossed them & then served a little pile on a bigger leaf of romaine. So you could just pick up a big leaf & nibble it with the salad on it. It looked very pretty fanned out on the platter.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: sparkareno

                                            I like romaine chopped with a knife and the ribs are my favorite part. I really like the cool crunchy vegetable flavor and texture. I don't like wimpy lettuce very much. I want my lettuce to have structure and backbone! Also I think dressing can dominate wimpy lettuce and make it soggy.

                                          2. I've read some material that says tearing lettuce results in less water loss than ripping. That's probably because the action is more 'natural' than a knife blade cutting through cell structure. If i recall correctly, the thing about cutting lettuce (no idea if it's exclusively romaine or not) is that contact with metal can turn the cut edges brown over time, which could be an issue in restaurants.

                                            For me, I don't care how it's done so long as the pieces aren't too large and the salad tastes good.

                                            1. I was taught to tear lettuce because it would not turn brown so quickly. Obviously that was before the advent of ceramic knives. It was strictly to keep it crisp and from prematurely turning brown. Not that complicated.

                                              1. i've cut and ripped romaine and the results have been horrible. i agree, "rip, don't cut salad greens (except romaine)"

                                                1. The traditional rule is that you don't cut greens because it breaks the cell walls, causing the leaves to get brown and limp more quickly. Tearing ostensibly separates the cells from one another without breaking the walls, thus keeping the greens fresher longer.

                                                  Romaine is an exception to this rule. So's iceberg. They're hearty enough to survive cutting and still stay fresh and crisp. Of course, it won't hurt anything to tear them, either.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                                    What works for me is simply to not mess with the lettuce until right before serving, then tear/cut (doesn't matter), dress and serve. Nothing is going to wilt/turn brown in that time frame.

                                                    1. re: pikawicca

                                                      Bingo. When it was my job to prep the salad ingredients for a five-hour dinner service, it was important to distinguish between greens that would wilt in that time frame and those that wouldn't. At home it's purely an aesthetic thing.

                                                  2. Wow, after reading through this, I’m glad to know I’m not an uncouth hick. I’ve always torn the Iceberg and cut the Romaine. But, if I come across a leaf left a little too large, I feel fully justified in cutting it at the table.