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Wilshire lettuce is small to medium in size and grows in a compact head that is composed of tightly packed, succulent leaves. The petite heads form dark green, deeply lobed leaves that are joined together in a close-fitting rosette shape that splays open at the top revealing the ornate curly edges of each leaf. The leaves are smooth, tender, crisp, and surround a pale-yellow core that is similar in texture to the center of a Brussel sprout. When consumed raw, Wilshire lettuce has a flavor much like any other oak leaf variety, slightly bitter with a clean, green finish, but when cooked, it develops a sweet caramelized flavor that is slightly smoky and nutty.
Wilshire lettuce is available year-round.
Wilshire lettuce, botanically classified as Lactuca sativa, is a unique variety of oak leaf lettuce that belongs to the Asteraceae family. A relatively new seed variety, Wilshire lettuce develops small, compact heads that are slow growing and able to develop more complex nutty and sweet flavors. Wilshire lettuce is not a well-known crop among farmers and is usually considered a rare niche item for chefs, favored for its sturdy texture and delicate, nutty flavor.
Wilshire lettuce is a good source of vitamins A, B, C, D, and E, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, folate, and dietary fiber.
Wilshire lettuce is best suited for both raw and cooked applications such as grilling, sautéing, and searing. The crunchy leaves may be separated individually, torn or sliced, and treated as a simple salad green. The leaves can also be layered in burgers, wraps, or sandwiches, used as a bed for slow braised meats and grilled fish, incorporated into fresh spring rolls for added crunch, or used as a taco shell or lettuce cup. The compact heads can also stand up to high heat and develop a caramelized flavor when cooked. The heads can be cooked whole or split in half to expose the maximum surface area for marinating and caramelization. To fully penetrate each layer of the curly leaves, brine the heads in a salt water solution for up to thirty minutes and then drain thoroughly before cooking. Wilshire lettuce pairs well with red peppers, carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, green onions, garlic, capers, shallots, ginger, apples, pears, figs, and raisins, poultry, fish, steak, pork, Dijon mustard, and herbs such as cilantro, mint, coriander, and turmeric. The leaves will keep up to one week when wrapped in paper towels and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. It is important to store the lettuce away from away from ethylene-producing fruits such as apples, melons, and tomatoes, as the natural gas will cause the lettuce to wilt prematurely.
Wilshire lettuce may be grown year-round hydroponically or seasonally in temperate and Mediterranean climates. It is most popular among chefs as a unique variety to incorporate added crunch and a slightly bitter, nutty taste. Wilshire lettuce is still considered a rare variety and is not commercially cultivated on a large scale.
Wilshire lettuce is a variety of oak leaf lettuce which is a descendant of wild lettuce. Origins of the earliest wild lettuce seeds have been traced back to the Mediterranean and central Asia. Today Wilshire lettuce can be found at specialty grocers and from select growers in the United States and Europe.