We'll come right out and say it: "We like Iceberg Lettuce!" That's right - bland, no food value (sic) tasteless, plebian, ordinary Iceberg Lettuce. We like it on our hamburger, as a wedge with Roquefort dressing, as the crispness in tacos, we just plain like it.
There, it's out on the table. For all to see. Let the naysayers and critics yell "Blasphemy!" at the top of their blogs. Come what may, we're going to stick with this one. The crisp crunch of Iceberg makes any number of things better - from the all-American burger to Tex-Mex tacos, Vietnamese spring rolls, and even Chinese chicken salad.
Many, many people don't even think about Iceberg - it is "lettuce" to them. The only lettuce. And, dare we say it, we're not alone in our feelings. As the Kitchen Project, a food history blog (among other things), points out, James Beard – the father of American gastronomy –was a fan, saying,
“Many people damn it, but it adds good flavor and a wonderfully crisp texture to a salad .” (“It also keeps longer than other lettuces,” he pointed out.)
Iceberg features on our salad menu at Sly's - in fact, the Wedge of Iceberg with a choice of Roquefort or Thousand Island dressing is Sly's best-selling salad - second is the Caesar - made with hearts of romaine. We sell literally thousands of the Wedges each year(the overwhelming majority choose the classic Roquefort).
The Wedge is a salad that once graced every hotel menu across America. I was proud to be part of bringing that tradition back in 1989 when I started as Executive Chef at Santa Barbara's El Encanto Hotel. (with a dressing of Iowa's Maytag blue cheese).
An Iceberg wedge has got that cool, crisp texture and crunch, a clean flavor without bitterness, and is the perfect foil to the thick, creamy Roquefort dressing. Add some ripe farmer's market tomatoes from Beylik Farms, and you've got quite a salad - our customers seem to think so.
The Wedge is not the only Iceberg based salad we serve at Sly's. Our classic Seafood Louis wouldn't be the same without the crisp foil of Iceberg for the Dungeness crabmeat, plump bay shrimp, ripe tomatoes, Carpinteria avocado, fresh asparagus, hard boiled eggs, and that special Louis dressing with just a hint of heat. Our take on the classic Cobb salad, Anne Douglas' Chopped Salad is based on Iceberg, tossed in our homemade Roquefort dressing with chunks of ripe tomato, apple wood smoked bacon, more roquefort, poached chicken breast, Tillamook cheddar and Swiss Gruyère cheeses, avocado, hard-boiled and Kalamata olives. Named after Anne Douglas, actor Kirk Douglas' wife, it's a popular salad for lunch and dinner.
Of course we serve Iceberg lettuce on our burger at Sly's - one might argue that some limp, bitter substitute makes it a lesser burger -we certainly would say that. This last year, we sold more than 6,000 hamburgers at Sly's - and made a lot of people very very happy. Not everyone had cheese on them, - most did. Some ordered their burgers without onions, a few without tomato. Many had a green salad instead of our homemade French fried potatoes. But only a handful ordered their burger without lettuce.
History & American Tradition, and Excitement about Lettuce
Admittedly, Iceberg is American all the way. Nothing wrong with that! Search for information on the web, and you'll find how Iceberg earned the sobriquet, "The most familiar of all lettuces sold in the United States." It would seem that Iceberg lettuce, and the many varieties that make up what we know of as Iceberg, were developed for ease of transportation across this great - and large - country of ours.
Where's the name from? Until the 1930s, what we now know as Iceberg was called simply "crisphead" lettuce. In order to be transported across the US by rail back in the 20's and 30's as the story goes, the crisphead lettuce (not yet called "Iceberg") was packed in cases and covered with shaved ice to keep it cold. It could be shipped from the Salinas valley of California across the United States - all the way as far as Maine. Being Iceberg, the weight of the ice was no problem, but a lesser lettuce (like butter lettuce) would have been bruised and crushed by the ice.
So the story goes (and with much in the world of food and food names, the story may not be as true as one would like) that as the train pulled into each stop, folks would call out excitedly, "The icebergs are coming, the icebergs are coming!" Hard to believe, perhaps, but the name "Iceberg" for crisphead lettuce has stuck.
Nutrition - somewhat reluctantly.
A google search will reveal that Iceberg has many of the same vitamins, minerals and good stuff as most other lettuces, albeit somewhat less, and has the same low amounts of fat, calories and stuff as the other guys too. Honestly now - if we count on the lettuce on our cheeseburger for our nutrition, we're going to be a bit lost already, aren't we? No how matter how much you eat of any lettuce it really isn't going to be enough, so there you have it.
Give Iceberg a break!
In closing, I'm not really sure why some critics (you know who you are!) say Iceberg's "insipid" and many foodies choose to be elitest and snobby about Iceberg lettuce. It's 70% of the lettuce sold in the US! and besides that, it's just good. (think about how good could a "wedge" of arugula really be?) Iceberg adds it's essential texture and crispness, and makes a difference doing so. I'm glad that the wedge is back in force, and glad that iceberg has never left the truly great burger, too. js