We’ve all been there: you put your fresh lettuce in the refrigerators lettuce crisper like a responsible adult, promptly forget about it, and then when it’s time for salad you find yourself with a drawer full of gloopy green sludge. You did not pay good money for lettuce just for it to dissolve into rotten soup! But you also did not pay good money to live with the burden of having to eat a huge amount of lettuce in one sitting. You paid good money to have a reasonable salad whenever the mood strikes you, and with some simple planning ahead, you shall always have that sort of freedom.
Step One: Wash and Dry
Non-organic greens may be covered with pesticides that you can’t pronounce, and farmer’s market greens often have tiny bits of dirt or sand hiding between their leaves. Even if you’ve bought prepackaged, pre-washed lettuce, you’re going to want to give it a quick wash anyway just to be safe (remember all those e. Coli outbreaks? The ones that still keep happening every couple of months because salad wants you to live on the edge? Yeah, let’s be safe rather than sorry).
Fill your sink or a very large bowl with cold water. Remove any brown or generally icky looking pieces from your lettuce, tear them up into salad-sized pieces and throw them in.
Agitate everything with your hands for a minute — the lettuce will stay afloat, while any errant pieces of dirt are shaken off to sink to the bottom of your water bath.
Remove the salad a handful at a time to a salad spinner, making sure not to overload, spin dry, then move to a clean bowl while you dry the rest. Don’t have a salad spinner? Put four layers of paper towels onto a sheet pan or large cutting board. Then grab a handful of lettuce, put it in a large colander, cover the top with a plate or large pot lid and shake vigorously for ten seconds. Spread out on the baking sheet, then repeat until all the lettuce is dried. Gently roll up the paper towels, give a few soft pats to wick away any extra moisture, and voila! This method is not as fast as a salad spinner, but you don’t need to buy a special piece of equipment that will take up precious cabinet space.
Step Two: Repackage
That spinner-less drying hack we just talked about? We’re pretty much going to do that same exact process again. Unfurl a decent length of paper towels on your counter (this will depend on how much lettuce you have), then evenly spread your dried greens over them. Gently roll them up, keeping it compact but not too tight so that there can be a bit of airflow between the layers. Then transfer to a large storage bag, a lidded container, or the original packaging it came in because thriftiness = godliness.
If you’re trying to go green and are keeping paper towels out of your shopping cart, do this with a tea towel.
If you really love lettuce to the point that your kitchen towels can’t contain them, just loosely pack the greens in a bag or container and stuff a small clean washcloth in there with them. It’ll absorb any excess moisture, giving the lettuce a fighting chance to stay fresh longer.
Step Three: Storage
There’s a reason your refrigerator has a lettuce crisper drawer: it’s the perfect temperature for storing greens. If you’re the type for whom out of sight means out of mind, keep it where you can see it towards the bottom of the fridge. Keep it away from the coldest part of your refrigerator, wherever that may be — lettuce can ice up pretty easily, which will destroy it.
Step Four: Maintenance
If you’re buying a ton of lettuce and hoping to keep it around for a while, make sure you check in on it every day or two to make sure it’s doing okay. If there’s any pieces that are starting to look gross, toss them, so they don’t spoil the bunch. If the towels are a bit wet, replace them with fresh ones. Properly stored lettuce usually lasts at least a week, but the sooner you eat it the better. After all, salad is good for you.