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~Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet~

IMG_0167You can teach an old dog new tricks.  As a gal, who, for the most part, prefers her vegetables cooked in some manner to enhance their flavor and texture, grilling lettuce was a technique I learned just a few short weeks ago.  I haven't a clue why it eluded me for so long, except, in my own defense, I don't remember a chapter entitled The Art of Grilling Lettuce in my foodie manual. Grilling lettuce might not be for everyone.  After all, we eat with our eyes, and our eyes have been trained to seek bright green, crisp. lettuce leaves.  So, even though the concept may seem foreign, I'm here to report, there's a nutty deliciousness in this process that's hard to describe.

A grilled-lettuce salad is indeed a shabby-chic salad to look at.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39c52f6200bA bit about the classic wedge salad:  Culinary reference books say iceberg lettuce (also known as crisphead or Simpson) was popular with Americans as far back as the 1920's, but, it places it "at the top of its game" in the 1950's and 60's. During this period, "the classic wedge salad" (a wedge of iceberg topped with blue cheese dressing, blue cheese, bacon, and sometimes, tomatoes) ruled the salad world much like the chicken Caesar does today.  It was a staple on every steakhouse menu. While this undeniably delicious salad has been deemed unhealthy by current-day food police, this is an unfair criticism.  Back in my day, Americans weren't eating via the drive-thru, take-out or delivery several nights a week. "The big cold wedge" was simply an occasional, pleasurable indulgence.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad356794e200cA bit about iceberg lettuce:  Prior to the 1920's, Americans relied primarily on seasonal leaf lettuces that were grown in their gardens or sold in their local markets for their salads -- salad eating in the colder regions was a seasonal pleasure. Then, along came the railroad.  It became possible for iceberg to be shipped year round, in traincars, from California to every corner of the USA.  Each crate of this round-headed super-crispy lettuce, which has a longer shelf life than all other leafy greens, was topped with ice to keep it cold during the long trip.  As the traincars pulled into depots for delivery and unpacking, the rail workers would shout, "here comes the icebergs", or, "the icebergs are coming".

Gem lettuce is a miniature, slightly-sweeter variety of romaine.

IMG_9720Described as the perfect cross between butterhead & romaine...

IMG_9724... these sexy little lettuce heads dress up any type of salad.

IMG_9749Originally native to France and Spain, this miniature variety of romaine has been around for a long time on the West coast of the USA.  Thankfully, its gain in popularity has finally resulted in my having easy access to it here on the East coast, more specifically, Central Pennsylvania.  Its scaled-down appearance is remarkably similar to its larger relative, having a green (sometimes reddish), oblong head with loose, crinkly leaves gathered around its crisp, more compact heart. Described as the perfect cross between butterhead (also known as butter, bibb or Boston bibb) and romaine, its crisp texture and compact size make it perfect for appetizer-size lettuce wraps and a great substitute for iceberg lettuce on any type of sandwich or wrap sandwich.

It's super-crispy, fork-friendly green leaves are often served in high-end restaurants, in a fancy-schmancy single-serving salad course.  Sliced in half or quarters and lightly painted with vinaigrette or olive oil, it holds up really well on the grids of a hot grill or grill pan too.   Like other leafy greens and lettuces, it won't hang around forever, but, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the vegetable crisper of the refrigerator, I've found it easily lasts up to a full ten days.

Halved & brushed w/EVOO, it does great on the grill or grill pan.

IMG_0041Part 1:  Make the dressing, preferably in day in advance.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd253167970bBlue cheese dressing is undoubtedly one of America's most popular salad dressings -- especially with men.  As the only girl in a sea of four men in my kitchen, this has been proven true.  In any steakhouse you'll be offered their house salad, many times a classic wedge salad, with the option of their in-house-made blue cheese dressing on top of it.  Order chicken wings anywhere, and unless you request them served otherwise, they will arrive with blue cheese dressing. 

6a0120a8551282970b01a511d428b7970cMy recipe will rival any blue cheese dressing, anywhere.  Chocked full of chunky blue cheese crumbles and the right balance of sweet and savory spice with a touch of heat, I'm reasonably certain it will become your favorite version.  My favorite blue cheese comes from Denmark, but, if you've got a favorite, as long as it can be crumbled, use it.  If you have the time, prepare the dressing a day before serving, to allow it ample time to thicken and give all the wonderful flavors time to marry.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd232464970bFor the salad dressing:

1/2  cup each:  buttermilk, mayonnaise and sour cream

1/2-3/4 teaspoons cayenne pepper sauce

1/2  teaspoon each:  lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce

3  tablespoons minced chives

1-1 1/2  cups crumbled blue cheese, 4-6 ounces

For the dried spice blend:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dddf0f9970d1/2  teaspoon each:  minced garlic, garlic powder, sugar and celery salt

1/4  teaspoon each:  minced onion, onion powder, celery seed, cracked black pepper, white pepper

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_9886 IMG_9886 IMG_9886~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, vigorously whisk together the salad dressing ingredients, except for the blue cheese crumbles and chives.  In a small bowl, stir together the dried spice blend, add them to the bowl of wet ingredients and, once again, vigorously stir.  Fold in the blue cheese crumbles and chives.

Note:  Depending on how much blue cheese you added, you will have 2-2 1/2 cups of salad dressing.  Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate several hours to overnight.

Part 2:  Grill-pan a filet or four & let 'em rest 10-15+ minutes.

IMG_9975Feel free to take your filet mignon into the great outdoors to cook it on the grill, but, I don't recommend it. Why? The filet, cut from the tenderloin and leanest, tenderest cut of beef, is the least likely to succeed over the dry, open flame of any seething-hot charcoal or gas grill grids. That said, indoors, on a grill pan, where it has a solid, steamy surface to sear itself above its own bubbling juices, the filet graduates at the head of its class -- with perfect, 4.0 grill marks too.

IMG_9906 IMG_9912 IMG_9933~Step 1.  For even-cooking and a pretty presentation, tie a kitchen-twine rope-line around the waist of each of 4, 8-9-ounce, 2"-thick filet mignon.

IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935 IMG_9935~Step 1.  Spray the grids of a nonstick grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute.  Once pan is preheated, place steaks on the grill grids.  Season their tops with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend*.  Continue to cook 5 full minutes. Using a spatula (not a fork), flip steaks over,  season the second sides and cook 5 more minutes. Flip steaks over and immediately give each one a quarter-turn, to form the signature cross-hatch grill-grid marks (note the direction of the marks in photos 3 & 4), then, cook 1 more minute.

*Note:  Steak-seasoning may be substituted for freshly-ground sea salt and/or peppercorn blend.

IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950 IMG_9950~Step 2.  Flip steaks over one last time and cook 1 more minute.  Steaks will now have the signature cross-hatch marks on both sides.  Using the aid of a long-handled fork (without poking holes in meat), lift steaks onto their sides and use the sides of the grill pan for support as you work. Continue to cook steaks on their sides for another full minute, turning steaks methodically and constantly during this time, to brown all around their perimeters.  Transfer steaks from grill pan to a plate, loosely cover steaks with aluminum foil or plastic wrap (to keep moist), and, set aside to cool prior to slicing and serving slightly-warm or at room temperature.

Part 3:  For the salad, grilling the lettuce, &, the assembly:

IMG_0018Of course you can serve this salad without grilling the gem lettuce -- everyone loves a crisp and classic wedge salad.  That said, the slightly-sweet gem lettuce gets sweeter on the grill pan, and, because of its compact leaf structure it holds up really well.  Set your apprehension aside for a moment and try it once.  You just might like it, and, be surprised to find out your family does too.

16  gem lettuce heads, sliced in half, 4 gem lettuce heads per salad

1  tablespoon olive oil, for ever-so-lightly brushing on gem lettuce halves

4  grill-pan-grilled filet mignon, slightly-warm or at room temp, from above recipe

1 1/2-2  cups dressing, from above recipe

1  cup crumbled blue cheese

1/2-3/4  cup very-thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moons, half-moons cut into quarters

1/2-3/4  cup crisply-fried and small-diced bacon

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for garnish

IMG_0020 IMG_0020 IMG_0020~Step 1.  Slice each lettuce head in half lengthwise.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint the flat surfaces with olive oil. Spray grids of a nonstick grill pan with no-stick and place over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Once pan is heated, arrange gem lettuce halves, without crowding the pan, flat side down, on hot grill grids. Do this in two batches if necessary.  Grill lettuce, without turning, for 3-3/12 minutes. Turn heat off and remove lettuce from skillet.  Use ASAP to plate salads as directed below.

IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138IMG_0138~Step 2.  To assemble the salads, on each of four salad/luncheon-sized plates, in the following order, decoratively arrange, sliced filet mignon, grilled lettuce halvess, red onion, blue cheese crumbles and bacon bits. Dollop a generous scoop of dressing in their centers, then, give each salad a light, even grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

The beauty is in the eye of the grilled-lettuce beholder: IMG_0173

Pick up a knife & a fork and cut in to nutty deliciousness: 

IMG_0132Grilled Gem Wedges w/Blue Cheese, Bacon & Filet: 2-2 1/2 cups salad dressing & four, hearty main-course salads.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup food storage container w/tight fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen twine; kitchen shears; aluminum foil or plastic wrap; grill pan; pastry brush 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad356791d200cCook's Note:  The perfect accompaniment to any wedge salad is a steak.  An extraordinary accompaniment to any wedge salad is ~ Steak au Poivre (Peppercorn-Crusted Filet Mignon) ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


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