Crunchy romaine lettuce leaves paired with a nutty, peanut butter-like dressing made out of Chinese sesame paste. This recipe is adapted from the iconic author and culinary genius of Chinese cuisine, Fuscia Dunlop.
Why This Works
Romaine is an economical ingredient that is practically universally available. This straightforward recipe highlights the best characteristics of the humble lettuce leaf and elevates it.
Useful Tips on Making the Best Phoenix Tails
What are Phoenix Tails?
Phoenix Tails in Sesame Sauce (麻酱凤尾, majiang fengwei) is as simple as it gets. It’s a dish that is traditionally made from celtuce tips which resemble the tails of the majestic phoenix. Traditionally celtuce is blanched before use. Due to lack of access to celtuce, we are using romaine lettuce leaves which simplifies the recipe.
What type of lettuce do I need to make Phoenix Tails with?
Due to the lack of availability in The States, celtuce may be substituted with Indian lettuce (youmaicai in Mandarin). However, to keep the recipe extra simple, cucumbers or romaine lettuce are fine alternatives.
How do I pick out romaine lettuce?
When purchasing romaine lettuce, seek out heads that are firm, vibrant, and undamaged. Avoid romaine lettuce heads that look wilted, discolored, or are broken. Romaine is typically sold in a package of three or individually unpackaged. Since it is not sold by weight, I personally look for the biggest heads of lettuce that are tallest or thickest (indicating a higher quantity of leaves).
How do I prepare romaine lettuce?
To prepare the romaine lettuce, start by placing the head on a cutting board. If it is held together with a band or twist, leave it on and trim off the hard base with a knife. Discard the stem and band. Next, take the leaves apart and put them in a large bowl filled with cold water. Soak for two minutes to remove dirt. Rinse the leaves thoroughly under running water, gently rubbing the surface of each leaf with your fingers to remove dirt. If there is any stubborn dirt, use a brush to remove it. Dry the leaves completely, using a salad spinner or patting them dry with paper towels. Excess moisture can make the salad soggy and make it harder for the dressing to stick to the leaves.
Do I need to discard the outer leaves of romaine lettuce?
Not necessarily however, any bruised, wilted, or damaged outer leaves should be discarded.
What is Chinese sesame paste?
Chinese sesame paste (芝麻酱, zhi ma jiang, sesame butter) is a paste made out of ground toasted sesame seeds. It is commonly found in sauces for cold noodles, salad dressings, and hot pot dipping sauces.
Can I substitute Chinese sesame paste out with tahini?
Chinese sesame paste and tahini are two different condiments with distinct flavor profiles. Sesame paste is made with toasted sesame seeds, which gives it a dark color and rich, toasty flavor. On the other hand, tahini is made with either lightly toasted or raw sesame seeds, resulting in a lighter color and milder flavor. The use and flavor of these two condiments may vary depending on region and culture as well.
Romaine Lettuce with a Sesame Dipping Sauce (Phoenix Tails)
- 1 head romaine lettuce
- 2 tbsp premium (aka light soy sauce)
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tsp chili oil (optional)
- 2 tbsp sesame paste
- 2 tsp white granulated sugar
- Pinch fine sea salt
- 4 tbsp filtered water
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- Prep | Place one head of romaine lettuce on the cutting board. If it is fastened with a band or twist, keep it on when trimming off the hard base off with a knife. Discard the stem and band. Unravel the lettuce piece by piece and soak all of the leaves in an extra large bowl filled with cold sink water. Soak for two minutes to loosen the dirt. Under running water, rinse and gently scrub the surface of each leave with your fingers until the visible dirt is removed. If there is stubborn dirt, remove by making gentle strokes with use a culinary brush. Dry thoroughly in a salad spinner or pat between sheets of paper towels. Any excess moisture will make the dish soggy and make it difficult for the dressing to adhere.
- Dressing | Add the premium/light soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, sesame paste, sugar, and salt into a bowl. Gradually add in the water 1 tbsp at a time until the sauce is as runny as Elmer's glue.
- Assemble | Plate the lettuce in one pile, then top with dressing, and sesame seeds. Enjoy!
2. To thoroughly wash romaine lettuce hearts, soak it in a large bowl, coaxing the dirt to loosen. Then use your fingers to rub any stubborn dirt off under running cold water.