There are plenty of components that go into making a good salad. Sure, we always want a balanced dressing, some hearty proteins, and crunchy toppings. But let's be real: the most important element is the lettuce.
Crispy romaine is the foundation of a well-constructed Caesar salad. Bibb lettuce needs to be fresh enough to hold up to the ingredients in a classic Waldorf. A rogue piece of slimy spinach can straight up ruin an entire meal.
An all-too-common experience is picking up a bag of salad greens at the supermarket and realizing it smells weird when you finally get around to opening it. The label claims the lettuce is double, sometimes even triple washed. But how does it become so gross so fast?
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We can answer that for you in just one word: storage.
Whether you buy whole heads of lettuce or pre-bagged salad greens, there's a foolproof way to set your lettuce up for success. It takes a little extra work, sure, but it can extend the lifespan of your greens to at least a week.
First, you need to know what lettuce needs to survive in the fridge. The two things any green needs to stay fresh are airflow and moisture. Sufficient air circulation is critical for keeping salad greens crisp. Those prepackaged bags of salad may be convenient, but the plastic is suffocating your spinach!
Moisture is also essential for keeping your greens perky for your next salad. But you want to make sure the amount of moisture is balanced. Too little water and your greens will shrivel up; too much and they'll get soggy and begin to rot faster.
Step 1: Wash Your Greens
Yes, even if your lettuce is triple washed. In fact, you should especially wash the bagged stuff. Prepackaged greens often have a higher likelihood of carrying foodborne illnesses like E.Coli and Salmonella. And most whole heads of lettuce spend their whole lives sitting in dirt. So even though it's a hassle, especially after hauling a whole load of groceries, you should wash any kind of lettuce before you put it away.
This is where a salad spinner comes in (you can check out some of our top picks here). If you don't want to buy one, a colander set inside a large mixing bowl will also work. For large heads of lettuce, cut off the bottom and separate the leaves before giving them a bath. If you purchased a bag of greens, just dump the entire contents into the basket or colander.
Fill the entire bowl with cold water and gently mix the greens around to make sure each piece gets a good rinse. If you purchased delicate bagged greens like spinach or arugula, now's the time to pull out any of the wilted, nasty looking stragglers. The dirt and grit will settle to the bottom of the bowl, and all you have to do is lift the basket and let the excess water drip off.
If you have a legit salad spinner, feel free to give your lettuce a little spin to remove even more of the water. But if you're preoccupied with other chores or don't have one, just let the greens sit in the sink for a few minutes to let them dry off a little more. You want the lettuce to still be damp, but not soaked.
Step 2: Store Your Greens
Okay, you've got half of it down. Now it's time to store your greens properly. This is where balancing the moisture level comes in. First, you want to make sure you use the right part of your refrigerator.
If you have a standard refrigerator, odds are you have one or two crisper drawers. If your model comes with a slider, make sure you set your drawer to high humidity, or the one meant for vegetables. If your fridge doesn't have a slider, place your greens in the drawer designated for vegetables. And whatever you do, don't store your lettuce and fruit in the same drawer! Fruits like apples and citrus release ethylene gas, which accelerates rotting for any produce around it.
You also want to make sure your lettuce is stored in the proper vessel to extend its lifespan. Whatever container you use, you want to make sure there's a way to prevent standing water from accumulating. Here are some of our preferred options.
The slightly lazy, but super effective solution is just using the basket of your salad spinner. The sides are already perforated, so there's plenty of airflow and any extra water will just drip out. All you have to do is place it on a paper towel-lined plate and cover the top with a dampened paper towel, then it can sit in your fridge for up to 10 days, depending on the hardiness of your lettuce. Every few days, you can re-dampen the paper towel on top to incorporate more moisture.
If you want something with a lid so you can easily stack it in your fridge, use a plastic food storage container. Line the bottom of the container with a layer or two of paper towels, then loosely fill it with your washed lettuce. Next, you're going to pierce the plastic lid so there's plenty of holes for air to circulate. Place it in the fridge and make sure nothing is obscuring the air vents, and you should be good to go.
If you're committed to proper salad storage or aspire to have The Home Edit-style fridge organization, try investing in lettuce bins. They come with their own perforated grates on the bottom to collect any extra moisture and give the greens enough air to breathe. You can find them online and at most kitchen supply stores, but pro tip: you can often find them on sale at discount stores like TJ Maxx or Marshalls.
How do you store your salad greens? Let us know in the comments.
Gabby Romero is a writer based in New York. As Delish’s Editorial Assistant, she writes stories about the latest food trends and is also the human at the other end of firstname.lastname@example.org.
She loves eating spicy food, reading cookbooks, and adding a mountain of Parmesan to any dish she can.