Everything to Know About Cooking and Shopping for In Season Frisée Lettuce
Plus, 3 new recipes
The best way to shop? With the seasons. So, every 2 weeks at Kitchen Stories, we'll be highlighting a different in-season ingredient along with 3 new recipes. To the market, we go!
The arrival of autumn signals the return of flannel jackets, orange-yellow pools of crinkly leaves, and a new crop of cold climate-loving lettuce for us to relish. Unlike the mellow lettuces of summer, these fall and winter greens tend to be earthier, more bitter, and more peppery in flavor. Think of collards, watercress, endive, and the topic of this article, frisée.
You may recognize frisée as the decorative garnish on dishes in gourmet restaurants, or more famously, as the leafy bed of salade Lyonnaise. The frilly fronds of this chef-favored lettuce are bitter with a satisfying crunch, so if you’re feeling a little underwhelmed by your everyday mix of spinach or arugula, look no further than frisée to add dimension and texture to your salads and sandwiches.
1. Hello, my name is frisée lettuce
Frisée, also known as curly endive in the UK, is a frizzy salad green of the chicory family (other chicory members include endive, escarole, and radicchio). The most noticeable characteristic of this vegetable is its appearance: a tousled head of dark lacy ruffles, sprouting from a pale yellow core. It’s extremely eye-catching, and perhaps this is why chefs tuck it under everything from duck confit to swordfish steaks. But frisée is more than just an aesthetic choice, it’s also saturated with a bright bitterness and nutty notes, which can really deepen and enrich a dish’s palate.
As with most leafy greens, frisée contains very few calories, and a whole lot of beneficial nutrients. A single serving contains 30% of the daily recommended intake of folic acid, eyesight-boosting vitamin A, and immune-supporter vitamin C. It’s also a fantastic source of dietary fiber, manganese, iron, and potassium.
2. When (and how) to buy frisée lettuce
Growing frisée is a difficult process and, surprisingly, blanching is a critical part of it. You may be familiar with blanching in the kitchen, which is when we dunk vegetables briefly in boiling water, followed by ice water to stop the veg from overcooking. Blanching on the field has the same objective but with a different approach. When frisée is about 75% grown, it gets covered with boards to keep it hidden from the sun. Warm temperatures and sunlight bolster the bitterness of its leaves, so keeping it in the dark allows the plant to grow more tender and pleasant to our taste buds. Because blanching requires more time and effort, the market cost of frisée reflects that.
Although some frisée might get harvested in the summer, you will likely not find it at the market until late autumn. In fact, peak season for this vegetable runs from late winter through early spring (December - April). When choosing frisée, reach for tightly furled bundles with bouncy leaves and a light lemon-yellow core. Avoid any that are wilting or have signs of discoloration (brown spots) or slime.
3. How to store frisée lettuce
To get the most out of frisée, don’t wash it until it’s ready to be eaten. If there are any signs of mild wilting, you can soak the frisée in cold water for approx. 15 min. to revitalize the leaves. Bear in mind these curlicues retain water like sponges, so definitely use a salad spinner after soaking them!
Despite its hardiness, frisée’s curls are extremely delicate and we suggest tearing the leaves into bite-sized pieces by hand rather than running a knife through them, which flattens the leaves’ natural shape. Store fresh frisée in a ventilated bag in the crisper drawer of the fridge for up to one week.
4. All the ways to enjoy frisée lettuce
Due to its sharp taste, frisée isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but this shouldn’t deter you from cooking with it! There are many ways to allay the bitterness and it all rests on how you dress it. Luckily, frisée is super susceptible to intense flavors and does really well with salty cheeses and citrus fruits. To enhance the nutty flavors of frisée, throw pecans or walnuts into the mix.
Since the inner yellow leaves are delicate and sweeter than the outer leaves, we like to reserve them for salads or placed under freshly grilled fish, meat, or veg. Pair your frisée salad with a sweet and acidic dressing—like maple syrup and red wine vinegar—and toss in some milder greens such as romaine or arugula to soften the bitter bite. Remember: frisée is hardy, so it can handle heavy and creamy dressings without wilting or becoming mushy.
Sauté the darker, outer leaves with a dash of maple syrup and lemon or animal fat to round out the flavors. Although its tousled leaves can withstand the weight of heavy sauces, frisée cooks quite quickly, so be sure to keep an eye on the pan, and, if cooking it in a soup or stew, toss in these curly-haired babies last.
5. What to make next
All week long, we’ll be featuring new frisée lettuce recipes on Kitchen Stories. Check back to see what’s new, then try one for yourself! Here’s where to start:
Published on September 8, 2019