What Is Bibb Lettuce?
Here's why it's perfect for lettuce cups.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Lettuces at the market aren't necessarily interchangeable in recipes. Each one, depending on its texture, is well suited to its own dishes. Romaine, for example, is practically made for Caesar salad. Iceberg is the go-to for tacos and BLTs. Bibb lettuce, one of the soft butter lettuces, is best suited for an airy, lightly dressed salad if you’re serving it on its own, but it really shines when you use it as a cup for any number of savory dishes. It requires a bit of TLC, so learn how to handle it.
What Is Bibb Lettuce?
Named for John Bibb, the farmer who started cultivating it in the late 1800’s, Bibb lettuce is a small, compact, round, tender green lettuce. A variety of butter lettuce, Bibb lettuce is also known as limestone lettuce or Boston Bibb. Butter lettuces like Bibb are lighter in color than romaine, green or red leaf lettuces, and have a milder flavor. The leaves themselves are very delicate and tender: the name butter comes from the texture, not the flavor.
The compactness of a head of Bibb can vary from quite tight to loose depending on where it is grown. It’s common to see heads packaged in a square plastic container with the roots still attached to the lettuce: these are grown hydroponically, in fertilized water in green houses around the country.
How to Buy Bibb Lettuce
When shopping for Bibb lettuce, choose heads that are compact and heavy for their size. You can either grab 4 or 5 heads and weigh them on the scale that’s usually available in the produce department, or hold one in each hand and choose the one that’s heavier. Chances are, you’re paying for lettuce by the head, not the weight, so always go for the heaviest. A compact head of Bibb lettuce will have a better texture than a loose head: all Bibb lettuce is tender, but the tighter leaves have a bit more crunch in the thick rib that runs down the middle of the leaf. As well, look for perky leaves that are green all over, with no bruising, browning or wilting.
How to Wash and Store Bibb Lettuce
Fill a large bowl or salad spinner with cold water. You'll see some soil at the base of the outer leaves. Tear each outer leaf from the head and place it in the water. (You don't usually need to wash the compact, inner leaves because the head grows from the inside out). Swish the outer leaves around the bowl and lift out of the water. Empty the bowl and place the leaves in a salad spinner to dry. If you don't have a salad spinner, gently roll the leaves in paper or cloth towels to absorb the water. Place the dried leaves in a large sealed plastic bag, and store in the fridge for up to 3 days.
How to Cut Bibb Lettuce
There are two kinds of lettuce: 1) crisp, crunchy lettuces like iceberg or romaine and 2) tender soft lettuces such as the leaf lettuces and butter lettuces.
Crisp lettuce has lots of water in every leaf, held in cells with rigid walls. This type of lettuce can stand up to being cut with a sharp knife without being crushed.
Tender lettuces like Bibb lettuce have delicate cell walls that will crush and look damaged under the pressure of even the sharpest knife. (The exception to this is one swift slice to cut a head ion half.) Tearing the leaves is a better way to go: the leaves will break apart along cell lines so the cells themselves won't rupture.
What Is a Substitute for Bibb Lettuce?
Any of the tender, mild lettuces like Boston, Little Gem and Butter can stand in for Bibb in a salad.
When using the leaves whole as a cup to hold other ingredients, the small inner leaves of most lettuces can be used. If the food you’re putting in the cups is very flavorful, radicchio is a nice option: colorful and sturdy, it can stand up to most foods as long as its flavor won’t overpower the filling you’re putting in it.
Best Type of Salad Dressing to Use with Bibb Lettuce
The delicate nature of all the butter lettuces, including Bibb makes them prone to being overwhelmed by heavy dressings. When creamy dressings are lightened with buttermilk, they gently coat the leaves and don’t weigh them down. Likewise, a simple vinaigrette used very sparingly will work. No matter which dressing you opt for, dressing the salad right before eating is essential, as the delicate leaves can’t stand up to prolonged contact with dressing (they'll wilt!).
Bibb Lettuce Recipes
Bibb is the perfect lettuce for a wrap or cup because it’s tender and its size makes for a perfect appetizer portion. You can use pork, chicken, turkey or chopped seafood in this recipe.
The beauty of a Bibb Cobb Salad is that the leaves are so small you can keep most of them whole. Serve it on a big platter or play chef and make individual composed plates.
Our creamy dressing for a Bibb salad has it all: mayo and sour cream for creaminess, anchovy for umami, chives for a little bite and lemon for zing. A quick grind of fresh black pepper makes it perfect.
The literal translation of Bossam is “wrapped” and that’s exactly what we’re doing here: wrapping succulent pork belly, daikon kimchee, napa cabbage and sauce in bibb lettuce. It’s perfect party food.
Moo Shu Pork is one of the most popular dishes in Asian restaurants. This simple version is quick and uses bibb lettuce leave in place of the thin Mandarin pancakes typically served in restaurants.