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Do Right By Your Lettuce: Kill It

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This article is brought to you by our friends at Electrolux as part of an ongoing series focusing on seasonal ingredients. Today: A lettuce side dish so "wrong," yet so right.

My lettuce tradition doesn’t include killing—it involves as little contact as possible. Carry them at the top of your market bag. Dress lightly. Toss gently. Eat with haste. But for many, as I learned in Ronni Lundy’s tribute to the food of the Appalachians, Victuals, quite the opposite holds.

Killed Lettuce
Killed Lettuce

In Appalachian kitchens, the first sign of spring is often marked by wilting lettuce and scallions—somewhat gingerly—in a warm sauce of bacon grease and vinegar. They’re not cooked; they’re killed (some would say “kilt”).

Killed lettuce “stirs deep cravings in the heart” for Lundy. Crisp greens, whether iceberg, romaine—mâche, or arugula—brace a bacon vinaigrette so much better than something like spinach: The grease slides down instead of sogs the leaves. The onion opens up, mellows, from the heat of the pan. The rich, vinegary, bacony sauce pools below the lettuce, waiting for cornbread to be glided through.

Lettuce and green onions, meet bacon grease.
Lettuce and green onions, meet bacon grease. Photo by Bobbi Lin

There is, of course, no one right way to kill lettuce. Some douse the raw lettuce and onions with vinegar, then spoon over bacon grease. Others temper a beaten egg in the hot grease and vinegar so the dressing’s a little thicker. Some add hard-boiled eggs and tomatoes, while others (chefs) put a soft-cooked egg on top. Some nix the bacon crumbles. Others use ramps instead of green onions.

However routine this mess of a dish might be to many in Appalachia, for a California nitpicker like myself, it’s also rebellious. When you do what you fear, and what you’ve been told not to do, anything goes. So of course I fussed, adding hot sauce and shallot to the sauce as well as an olive oil- or bacon grease-fried egg so the yolk can flow into that sauce.

I know it’s not traditional. I know it’s wrong. I know I want to gobble the whole mess as fast as I can.

Killed Lettuce

Killed Lettuce

Ali Slagle Ali Slagle
Serves 4
  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into lardons
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 scallions, white and some green parts thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • Your favorite hot sauce
  • 6 cups crisp salad greens (such as romaine, iceberg, or arugula—a mix or just one), torn into bite-size pieces
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Eggs (optional)
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Tell us: When have you messed with tradition?

This article was brought to you by Electrolux, Food52's test kitchen partner. Electrolux is all about great taste and the appliances to help you make beautiful meals in your own kitchen. Learn more here.

Automagic Spring Menu Maker!
Automagic Spring Menu Maker!

Tags: Salad, Bacon, Egg, Lettuce, Books