Photo courtesy Seeds of Change
The world of lettuce is more crowded than a rush-hour subway. So when one type—sucrine—jumps ahead of the pack, you know it’s got character.
Sucrine, also called Little Gem, is the new pet of chefs and other food-followers. A toothsome cross between romaine and Bibb, it’s got crinkly leaves and a soft, buttery bite. A French native (its name refers to its mild sweetness), sucrine is also cold-tolerant, so it’s available in winter.
Unless you cultivate your own, you’re most likely to find sucrine only at farmers’ markets. Try to make a friend of the farmer who sells it, and arrange to get your own supply. Sucrine's increasing popularity, though, bodes well for more general availability—think arugula, once a “boutique” edible and now a supermarket staple.
As for salads, sucrine has a natural affinity for walnuts and thus for dressings made with their oil. Classically, whole heads—they’re relatively small—are simply halved lengthwise, dressed, and served one half per portion. Joel Robuchon uses the leaves in a king crab salad with cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, flatbread shards, and a balsamic vinegar dressing. If a head is reasonably tight, it can also be cut into six or eight fingers to be used as dippers. Sucrine stands up well to fully flavored dips, like tapenade.
Americans don’t often enjoy cooked lettuce, more’s the pity. Sucrine does very well cut crosswise and added to stir-frys at the last minute. Or take a cue from Chef Edward Brown of Manhattan’s new Eighty-One, where he wilts the lettuce and serves it with an herb pesto and baby lamb. As a one-dish salad accompaniment, Résidence de la Pinčde, a St. Tropez go-to, serves sucrine in an entrée featuring candied tomato “pie.” That’s pretty close to offering a sucrine-topped pizza.
Not a bad idea.