Celtuce Is the Star of This Summer Seafood Dish

Get to know this delicious, of-the-moment ingredient

June 17, 2024 6:52 am
a closeup of razor clams on a shellfish tower with smoked fish salad and scallop crudo
The razor clams with vegetable xo, celtuce and benne seed at Figure Eight
Heather Willensky

Welcome to our summer produce series. Every week until the end of August, we’re highlighting the most in-season fruit or veggie of the moment, as handpicked by the experts at Natoora. You can learn more about the company and how they work with farmers in our first piece of the series.

I admit that before I started this summer produce series, I didn’t know much about celtuce. I’ve seen it on menus every now and then and tried it once or twice, but it’s not something I’ve ever really sought out. But after chatting with Natoora, it’s definitely something I’m looking for at the farmers market this week.

“Celtuce is a niche item, but it’s quite spectacular and could use some raising up,” says Natoora Brand Manager Phoebe Creaghan. “We source it from a grower named Christina, who grows on leased land from the Chester Agricultural Center.

What Is Celtuce, Exactly?

If you’re like me, you probably need a bit of a celtuce explainer. Also known as celery lettuce, stem lettuce, Chinese lettuce and asparagus lettuce, the word celtuce comes from the combination of celery (which has similar looks) and lettuce (of which it’s a species). It’s been prominent in Chinese (and Taiwanese and Singaporean) cuisine for centuries, but it’s only recently made its way to Western markets. It can sometimes be found at Asian grocery stores, and farmers (like Christina mentioned above) have started to grow it stateside, too. According to journalist and author Clarissa Wei, who wrote one of our favorite cookbooks last year, celtuce has “the texture of a broccoli stem [and] is a gorgeous, almost nutty-like vegetable that doesn’t need much seasoning, if at all.”

We’re certainly excited to try it this season, but first, here’s what to look for, courtesy of Natoora:

  • What to look for when shopping: Look for what appears to be overgrown romaine. While the leaves have a use, it’s all about the stem, so don’t worry if leaves are slightly wilted. Avoid split stems that are too thick. 
  • How to store for maximum freshness: Keep cold and covered with a damp cloth in the fridge. Remove leaves that have wilted or turned brown. Check for mold before using. 
  • How to prep and use: Remove the leaves and use separately in salads or soups. Remove the first layer of skin, as it’s tough and bitter; use the remaining stalk. Celtuce is very versatile and suitable to eat raw or cooked (we like it grilled, roasted or boiled). 
The InsideHook Guide to Summer
Everything worth doing, drinking, eating, watching and otherwise enjoying between now and Labor Day
CELTUCE. stem, celery, asparagus lettuce or Chinese lettuce
Celtuce stalks are used more readily than the leaves (though those are edible, too).
Getty Images

The Recipe

The menu at at Figure Eight in New York’s West Village is inspired by restaurateur Emmeline Zhao’s Chinese American upbringing in North Carolina. Growing up, her parents did their best to cook Chinese meals, using the ingredients that were available to them on the lower Atlantic coast. At Figure Eight, this has translated to dishes like mapo buttered grits, fried skate with chili crisp and this phenomenal razor clam recipe, where the bivalves are dressed up with celtuce and a vegetable XO sauce. 

“Celtuce is a great and versatile vegetable,” says Figure Eight Executive Chef Calvin Hwang. “Its solid internal structure makes it super easy to dice. We use it in our razor clam dish to add a crunchy texture and mild celery-esque vegetable flavor. Plus, it’s the prettiest, almost translucent green!”

Get to your farmers market this week while this of-the-moment ingredient is still at its prime.

Figure Eight's Razor Clams

Servings: 4, as a starter

  • 200 grams sherry
  • 40 grams salt, divided
  • 500 grams chopped shiitake mushrooms
  • 500 grams halved cherry tomatoes
  • 50 grams minced garlic
  • 150 grams minced shallots, divided
  • 50 grams minced ginger
  • 30 grams finely chopped Thai chili
  • 1 bunch chopped scallions
  • 2 lbs. razor clams
  • 450 grams shaoxing wine
  • 20 grams diced celtuce stem
  • 20 grams diced daikon radish
  • To make the mushroom and tomato XO:
    1. Bring the sherry and 20 grams of salt to a boil. Add shiitakes, and simmer together for roughly 20 minutes or until the shiitakes are softened and have taken on the sherry flavor. Cut into small pieces.

    2. Mix the tomatoes with olive oil and salt. In separate trays, dehydrate the tomatoes and mushrooms at 225F until chewy but dried.

    3. Combine garlic, 100 grams of shallots and Thai chili in a food processor and rough chop into small pieces. Add to a pot and simmer for roughly 3 hours or until cooked and fragrant. Once cooked, add the dried mushrooms and tomatoes.

  • To prepare the clams:
    1. Lightly sweat the scallions and remaining 50 grams of shallots in a wide pot. Add the razor clams and shaoxing wine and cover with a lid to steam. The clams should be no longer translucent and slightly firm to the touch when cooked.

    2. To finish, slice the razor clams on the bias and mix with diced celtuce and daikon. Add enough XO to cover the clams generously. Scoop the mixture back into the razor clam shells to serve.


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