Iceberg wedge, anyone?

Published 2:41 am Saturday, September 20, 2014

We are still eating iceberg wedges after all these years, even though most people think Iceberg lettuce has little flavor. Even James Beard, the father of American gastronomy, was a fan, saying, “Many people damn it, but it adds good flavor and a wonderfully crisp texture to a salad.” It also keeps longer than other lettuces.

Long before the arrival of mesclun, frisee, endive, spring mix, packaged salads, radicchio and arugula, iceberg dominated the produce aisle. Quartered, shredded, its leaves pulled off and transformed into cups for canned pears (I remember my mother doing this.). Tastes change, and the iceberg wedge was drowning in a thick dressing which was replaced with vinaigrette-tossed leaf lettuces (especially romaine) and smaller, more exotic “designer” greens, all more nutritional and more flavorful that the neutral iceberg.

Short of the TV dinner, there are few more retro gestures than ordering a wedge of iceberg lettuce covered in a thick creamy salad dressing. It still accounts for 70 percent of the lettuce raised in California. Fancier restaurants seldom serve it, but steakhouses refuse to give it up. It has a comfort level with it—served cold it has a nice crunch.

Most Americans side with the prim instructions given in the first Joy of Cooking. “Heads of iceberg lettuce are not separated,” the directions read. “They are cut into wedge-shaped pieces, or into cross wise slices.” A lettuce that went by the name of iceberg was developed in the 1890s and somehow the name resurfaced when new varieties of durable, shippable crisphead lettuce began emerging in California in the mid-1920s. In 1948, the iceberg we know today was born. Why iceberg? No one seems to know, although one popular theory holds that the name refers to the tons of ice that chilled it in the days before refrigerated rail cars.

Actually, I like a wedge of cold iceberg lettuce for a salad. I order it in restaurants often. My ‘Food Network’ magazine for September had a whole section of wedges and new ways to dress them. I tried some and they were delicious. So get out the head of lettuce and jazz it up a bit with these recipes.


Cheddar-Bacon Wedge Salad

Serves 4

4 slices thick-cut bacon

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup buttermilk

½ cup sour cream

1 clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon distilled white vinegar

½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 head iceberg lettuce

½ cup grated sharp cheddar cheese or cheddar-jack cheese

Fry the bacon in a skillet over medium heat until slightly crisp, 12 to 15 minutes. Drain on paper towels; set aside to cool.

Combine the mayonnaise, buttermilk, sour cream and garlic in a large bowl. Add the vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, ¼ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon pepper and the cayenne and whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Chop the bacon into pieces. Cut the iceberg head in half, then cut each half into 2 wedges. Spoon dressing over each wedge so it drips down the sides, then sprinkle with the cheese and bacon.


Creamy Shrimp and Dill Wedge Salad

Serves 4

1 ¼ cups chopped fresh dill, plus more for garnish

3 cloves garlic (2 smashed, 1 grated)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup mayonnaise

½ cup sour cream

½ cup whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 cup diced seedless cucumber (unpeeled)

¾ cup finely chopped red onion

Grated zest of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons sugar

1 head iceberg lettuce

Cook the shrimp: Fill a large bowl with water and add plenty of ice; set aside. Fill a large pot halfway with water. Add ¼ cup dill, 2 smashed garlic cloves, a little pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until fragrant, about five minutes. Add the shrimp; remove the pot from the heat and let sit, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp is pink and opaque, two to three minutes. Drain and transfer to the ice bath to cool.

Combine the remaining one cup dill, one grated garlic clove, the mayonnaise, sour cream, yogurt, cucumber, onion, lemon and zest and sugar in a large bowl. Taste, then season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.

Remove the shrimp from the ice bath, dry gently with a paper towel and coarsely chop. Stir into the dressing until combined.

Cut the iceberg lettuce until four wedges. Tear the first few layers from the center of each wedge to create a “bowl” in the wedge; divide among plates. Fill the lettuce bowl with the shrimp salad, letting it spill over the wedge. Garnish with chopped dill. Serve cold or at room temperature.