Stir fried lettuce or Chao Sheng Cài in Mandarin 炒生菜 or Chow Saung Choy in Cantonese dialect isn’t the first thing you jump to when you think of lettuce, but this cooked lettuce dish is refreshing, quick, easy to make, and goes with just about any dish you can think of in my opinion.
Whether you’re having Beef Rendang, Forty Garlic Chicken, or Salt and Pepper Pork Chops for your main dish, this stir-fried lettuce is the perfect side dish.
Another Way to Use Lettuce Besides Salad
What’s more, if you’re sick of chomping on rabbit salads, this is a great option for the head of lettuce in your refrigerator that you can’t bring to make into yet another salad. Sometimes a cooked lettuce or hot stir-fried lettuce is much better than a cold salad and is definitely a Chinese preference for sure!
You may be wondering why anyone would cook lettuce, how you cook lettuce, and if cooked lettuce even tastes good. Well, I have to report that both romaine lettuce and iceberg lettuce are great choices for this stir-fried lettuce recipe due to their high water content, fresh taste and crunchiness.
In fact, stir-fried lettuce is a very popular Cantonese dish and is served in many restaurants in China.
Tasty, crunchy and refreshing, iceberg lettuce is my favorite choice for stir fried lettuce, and this recipe, in my humble opinion, is the best way to cook it. This stir-fried lettuce recipe really brings out the true flavor of iceberg lettuce, and after you try it, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for humble lettuce!
Eating Lettuce During Chinese New Year
Another fun fact is that lettuce is a very popular vegetable for Chinese New Year. Lettuce, whether stir fried or served any other way, is a must-have ingredient in many Chinese households for Lunar New Year feasts.
The reason is that Sheng Cài (Mandarin) 生菜 or Saung Choy (Cantonese) has the Chinese word Sheng 生 which when written and pronounced alone, means live or implies life, which is a good thing to start off any new lunar new year.
The Chinese word sheng also means “to grow” and when combined with the word “lettuce,” sheng cái 生财 or to grow wealth is obviously also auspicious! However you see or hear it, this stir-fried lettuce dish is a good, if not essential candidate for a Chinese New Year vegetable side dish!
Stir-fried Lettuce: Recipe Instructions
Take the head of iceberg lettuce and firmly hit it on the counter firmly, with the stem side down to remove the core. (One of the first of many tricks I learned when working in the restaurant industry!) Here’s a quick video showing how it’s done:
Remove the first outer layer of the lettuce and any discolored leaves and discard. Tear the lettuce with your hands into large 4 to 5-inch pieces.
Place the lettuce in a large bowl of very cold water and give it a good stir. This washes your lettuce and rehydrates it. Next, drain the lettuce in a colander and give it a good shake to remove the excess water from the surface of the lettuce. Iceberg lettuce already contains a lot of water, so removing the excess water is important, or you’ll end up with too much liquid. Feel free to use a salad spinner, which is a good idea if your stove and wok does not generate enough high heat.
Combine the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt, sugar, white pepper into a small bowl and set aside.
Heat your wok over low heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil and the fresh ginger slice. Make sure to smash the ginger with the side of a knife to release the juices and flavors before you add it. Infuse the oil for 15 seconds, being careful not to burn the ginger.
Turn the heat up to the highest setting, and stir in the chopped garlic. Then immediately add the iceberg lettuce. Stir-fry everything together, using a scooping motion to coat the lettuce uniformly with the oil. After about 20 seconds, gather the lettuce in the middle of the wok in a pile, so you can see the liquid pooling around it in the wok.
Let cook uncovered for another 15 seconds, and while this is happening, pour the soy sauce mixture over the lettuce. At this point, the sides of the wok will start to super-heat. This may be tough to achieve on your average stove burner, but do your best!
Now in a single motion, stir the lettuce in a circular motion while spreading the lettuce out across the wok. The idea is to get the lettuce and the liquid searing along the sides of the wok to get that wok hei flavor. After the searing has stopped, repeat the process of gathering the lettuce in the middle of the wok again and letting the sides of the wok heat up again.
After this second round of searing, your iceberg lettuce should be tender, with the green parts wilted. Stir-fried lettuce should be slightly crunchy, so be sure not to overcook it. This whole process from start to finish takes less than 2 minutes in the wok.
Serve immediately and trust me, you’ll be amazed how deliciousness of a good stir-fried iceberg lettuce!
Cooked lettuce is not an obvious vegetable choice at first glance but you’ll find that it is a refreshing vegetable side dish to go with any meat.