As promised, here is the low down on wilted lettuce. I know nothing of this dish’s history and what I can find from a little searching is that maybe it came from Germany? Maybe the South (USA)? But it’s pretty much the same recipe no matter where you look, so here is what I know to be ‘wilted lettuce’.
No, it isn’t sad lettuce that has wilted away in the crisper drawer. No, it’s not necessarily ‘healthy’. My mom would make this on rare occasions in her large stock pot to cut down on the crazy splatter of the bacon grease and just thinking about it brings back the smells and sounds of mom preparing this tasty treat.
This is presented unedited from what my momma does.
What you need:
- 1 pound of bacon, the fattier the better
- 3 heads of romaine lettuce
- 1 bunch of green onions (scallions)
- 1 bottle of apple cider vinegar (ACV)
What you do:
Cut the core off the romaine and wash each leaf, lay on paper towels to dry. Pat the lettuce with paper towels. Dry. The. Lettuce. Make sure the lettuce is 100% dry because you will be pouring hot bacon ‘drippings’ (aka, grease, I recognize drippings sounds tastier) on the lettuce and if you know anything about hot oil+water, you know you really want to limit the amount of water here.
Next up is bacon preparation. Your goal is two-fold: to render as much fat as you can from the bacon, and to get the bacon as crispy as possible to add to the salad. Start bacon in a cold frying pan on medium-low heat, watching the bacon and increasing the heat as the bacon loses its’ fat. You don’t want to burn the bacon, but you do want it completely crispy. Remove bacon when done and reserve the ‘drippings’. (Turn off the heat, you don’t want to burn your drippings either! Oh, and scrape the bottom for the good bits while it’s still warm!)
Your romaine should be dry now, so go back to it and cut/tear the lettuce to bite-sized bits. Ask your daughter if she wants to help (she does) and race to see who can get the most done. Add the lettuce to the biggest stockpot (or pot with the highest sides) you have. Tell daughter to stop eating the bacon.
Wash and thinly slice the bunch of green onions/scallions. Offer one raw to daughter who will eat it dipped into a palm of salt. Cut both the white and the greens and add to lettuce.
Loosely crumble the bacon with your hands (or roughly chop) into the pot. Give the daughter a nibble, come on, she won the lettuce race.
Heat up the bacon ‘drippings’ to near smoke point. You want these ‘drippings’ screaming hot. Make daughter stand back, say a prayer, and once your ‘drippings’ are about to scream to the point of smoking out the whole kitchen, pour over the lettuce.
You will hear sizzles and pops and the lettuce will shrink to about ¼ of whatever it was. Quickly stir to cover lettuce.
Serve in bowl with apple cider vinegar and salt on the side. Add as much (or little) of either that you desire. Eat quickly. Save any leftovers (hah) and heat up in the microwave (it’s almost better the second time around).
That is the wilted lettuce of my youth, and I believe, my mom’s youth.
As much as I respect my culinary upbringings, I have played around with wilted lettuce to make it a) easier and b) more balanced. So, if you are inclined, here are some notes that you may want to try if you every decided you need to taste my wilted (lettuce) childhood.
Bacon stays the same throughout.
Greens: romaine is fine but honestly, any greens can work here. You know the washed tubs of mixed greens? Easy, tasty, and adds a new dimension! Spinach from your CSA? Do it. (also, a salad spinner works way better than an entire roll of paper towels.)
Keep the scallions, I add some to the greens and then reserve some to top the salad.
And here is where I pivot the most:
I effectively make a vinaigrette to dress the greens with before the ‘drippings’ are poured on, and add more when served (to taste). Mom would just pour the ACV on top of the salad when it was served, and I love that, but it’s a little harsh. This vinaigrette brings together some sweetness to balance the acid and fat.
This dressing was enough for 4 salads, so you may want to adjust to your liking. As always with my recipes, you should adjust to taste:
- ½ cup of apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp bacon drippings
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ tsp minced dried onion
Add all together in a bowl or a small salad dressing shaker and mix/shake.
Let the dressing meld for a few minutes, then add half-ish of it to the greens and toss. Reserve the rest to add when served.
Follow the rest of the directions as mom did. Serve hot, topped with some of the reserved scallions, some flaky sea salt, and more vinaigrette if desired.
Yes, I have made ‘my’ version of wilted lettuce for my mom. She ate it, but I think she’ll always prefer it ‘her’ way, and that’s a-okay.
If you decide to give this a try, let me know! Do you have a version of this salad in your family? Do something a little differently-I’d love to hear about it!