Frisee is a feathery lettuce that gives a salad pizzazz, but it is sometimes difficult to find and is probably not on hand in your refrigerator when you're ready to make a salad. While you may not get the exact texture and mildly bitter taste of frisee when you substitute another lettuce, you do have options. Look for lettuces with strong flavors or interesting textures that pair well with other strongly-flavored ingredients like walnuts, bacon and Parmesan or blue cheese.
Cute and Curly
Like frisee, curly endive has loose, lacy leaves that curl at the edges, although the leaves themselves are slightly thicker that the more tender frisee leaves. Frisee is a type of chicory lettuce and curly endive is a variety of endive lettuce, but both types belong to the Cichorium family, and both have the slightly bitter taste that stands up well to to other strong flavors. Substitute curly endive on a one-to-one basis for frisee.
The Edgy Cousin
Chicory, a winter lettuce, has a more assertive, bitter taste than frisee, as well as thicker leaves. But like frisee, it has curly leaves and gives a salad an interesting tang. If you substitute chicory for frisee in a salad, use half as much chicory as you would frisee, and fill in the rest of the salad with a milder tasting lettuce to offset chicory's bitterness. Chicory provides a interesting contrast in a winter salad with roasted vegetables and winter pears.
Frisee, chicory and curly endive can be difficult to find in some groceries, but arugula, a mildly bitter spring and summer lettuce is much more common. It's available in both loose bins of lettuce blends and also in packages sold as "baby" arugula. Also known as Italian cress or rocket lettuce, arugula has lobed, flat leaves similar to oak tree leaves and its flavor is similar to that of frisee, but more peppery as opposed to bitter. Use arugula just as you would frisee.
A Dash of Red
Red leaf lettuce is always available and mimics the lightness of frisee, with a milder flavor than either frisee or radicchio, a very bitter red head lettuce. While red leaf lettuce isn't as feathery as frisee, its reddish and slightly ruffled leaves add a similar interesting texture to a salad and a stronger flavor than head lettuces. Cousins of red leaf, such as oak leak and crinkly green leaf lettuces are all totally green and also will substitute for frisee.
- The Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
- The Deluxe Food Lover's Cookbook: Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
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