Because all types of lettuce contain a high percentage of their weight in water -- iceberg, for example, comes in at 96 percent -- restoring limp lettuce to its crisp state means finding a way to rehydrate the leaves.
Buy the freshest-looking lettuce you can at the store to extend its life once you get it home. Look for shiny as opposed to dull leaves, with no drying or browning at the edges.
How To Restore Lettuce
Like the leaves of most plants, lettuce leaves pull in moisture from the outside. Use this botanical fact to help restore your lettuce. Give your lettuce an ice bath just before you plan to make your salad and serve it:
Fill a large bowl with very cold water. If the water from your tap isn't cold, place a few ice cubes in the bowl.
Remove whole lettuce leaves from the head of lettuce and submerge them in the cold water.
Leave the leaves in the water for 10 to 30 minutes. If the leaves look like they have not crisped up at all, longer soaking won't make any difference.
Use a salad spinner, paper towels or a clean dish cloth to dry the lettuce, and then make your salad as you usually do. Pour on the dressing and toss the salad immediately before serving.
Store your lettuce properly to help reduce the chances of it going limp before you're ready to use it. Keep it wrapped in plastic, unwashed, uncut and placed away from apples, pears or bananas, which release natural gasses that cause the lettuce to age quickly, according to the University of Illinois Extension website.
Lettuce You Can Restore
Not all lettuce springs back to life after it's wilted. The type of lettuce and the condition of the lettuce make a difference:
- If the color of the lettuce has already changed from green to dark green or brown, its cells are too damaged to soak up moisture.
- If the leaves have become slimy, they are already spoiled and you should discard the lettuce.
- Lettuce with stiffer leaves, such as red lettuce or romaine, benefits from an ice bath more than lettuces with tender leaves, such as baby varieties and mesclun greens.
Uses for Wilted Lettuce
As long as your lettuce isn't rotten, with mold or slimy sections, you can use it for recipes that don't rely on its crisp texture:
- Cut the lettuce into a chiffonade and add it to stews, soups, stir-fries or risotto.
- Drizzle romaine, endive or radicchio lettuce halves or quarters with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of minced garlic, and grill the lettuce on both sides until it has all wilted and has bits of black char.