the moveable feasts

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps

with 10 comments

chinese chicken lettuce cups

There’s not really any story or moral or silly musings attached to the recipe I want to share with you today. I’m still not quite sure of whether that’s a good thing or not. Usually my attachment and preference for things (food, music, places) is always dependent on the emotional associations I have with them. But we can’t always have that luxury for everything now, can we?

food processed chicken cook up the chicken

mise en place

So I present to you this story-less, but no less delicious, recipe. I made it last week when I was home during my school’s spring vacations after seeing it in Cook’s Illustrated’s new May issue. It really isn’t too complicated at all, requiring three basic simple steps: first, you process chicken chunks to tinier bite-sized pieces and let them sit for a bit in a cornstarch slurry of a sauce (which is supposedly to help tenderize the small chicken pieces throughout the cooking process). A note about the chicken– the recipe calls for dark meat for flavor, but I used a mix of both and think I would actually prefer all white meat next time I make it. Next, make and set aside a sauce that is added at the very end to the stir fried vegetables and chicken to flavor the whole thing. And finally! Stir fry the vegetables, then the chicken, add sauce, and scoop into pieces of butter lettuce to eat.

crispy butter lettuce

I had never made something like this before, so I’m aware that it’s probable that a lot of the allure of this dish came from what we’ll call the “cute factor.” I mean… it’s Asian-flavored chicken and vegetables in crispy, cute lettuce wraps. It’s fun. But I do think the wraps in themselves were delicious and a refreshing change from the usual stir-fried protein and veggies over rice package. It’s something to think about at least, if you’re wanting to change up the usual way in which you eat your food. This could also be fun for sharing at a gathering, granted that you use the smaller pieces of lettuce to give a more “small bites” impression.

chinese chicken lettuce cups

(As a side note, this post feels very off to me for some reason. Do you recognize this or am I just imagining things? I can’t tell what it is. It does, I have to tell you, remind me of this really weird episode of Rachel Ray’s 30-Minute Meals I saw once. Instead of her usual, overly-peppy, talkative, “yum-o” and “delish” self, she was awkwardly quiet throughout the entirety of her thirty-minute made meal. I suppose she just had an off day, but oh believe me it was weird to watch. I just remember sitting there in almost an awe while watching her, thinking, “Well jeez, I bet she got in a fight with her boyfriend or something that day.” I am in no way trying to compare myself to Rachel Ray–please no!–but I just had to include this thought, for some bizarre and unknown reason. Anyway… to the recipe!)

Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, May 2012

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, cut into rough 1-inch pieces
2 teaspoons Chinese rice cooking wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice cooking wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more, for taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 celery ribs, diced
6 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
1/2 cup water chestnuts, diced
2 scallions, white parts minced, green parts sliced thin
2 garlic cloves, minced

1 head bibb or butter lettuce (8 ounces), washed and dried, leaves separated and left whole
hoisin sauce, for serving (optional)

First, prep the chicken. Place chicken pieces on a large plate or two in a single layer. Freeze meat until firm and staring to harden around the edges, about 20 minutes or so. Meanwhile, whisk the rice wine, soy sauce, oil and cornstarch together  in a medium sized bowl. Set aside. Once the chicken has been chilled, transfer about half of it into a  food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped into 1/4-inch sized pieces, about 7 or 8. Transfer the meat to the bowl with the rice wine-cornstarch mixture and repeat with the remaining chicken chunks. Toss the chicken to coat with the rice wine-cornstarch slurry and place in the refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes.

To make the sauce that will be later used to coat the stir-fried chicken and vegetables, whisk all the ingredients, including the oyster sauce, rice wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

For the stir-fry, it is important that you already have all of the vegetables already prepped and chopped and the chicken chilled. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot, or smoking. Add the chicken and cook, stirring constantly, until opaque and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Next, cook the vegetables. In the now-empty skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil until very hot and smoking. Add the chopped celery and mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly, until the mushrooms have reduced to about half their size and the celery is tender but still crisp, about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the water chestnuts, minced white part of the scallions and garlic and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Return chicken to skillet. Whisk set aside sauce to recombine and add to the skillet, tossing the chicken and vegetables in the sauce.

Spoon chicken stir-fry into lettuce leaves and sprinkle with scallion greens. Serve with hoisin sauce if you’d like.

Written by Amy

April 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Posted in Poultry, Meat and Seafood

Tagged with ,

10 Responses

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  1. Amy, I don’t think that this post is awkward. Sometimes, a recipe is just good! These wraps look great, by the way. Have you ever had peking duck? The whole minced poultry in lettuce reminds me a little of the second half of a traditional peking duck service. The first half is where the duck is carved and you serve yourself thin slices of fatty duck, skin on, with hoisin sauce and scallions on little flat breads. The rest of the duck gets carted back to the kitchen, where it’s made into a mixture reminiscent of your chicken, and then it’s served with lettuce to wrap. I think they’re referred to as crystal wraps? Anyway, it’s unlikely that I’m going to be preparing a duck anytime soon, but having reminded myself of peking duck, I think I’ll have to try your wraps!


    April 3, 2012 at 9:19 pm

  2. I think this recipe looks lovely and your post isn’t awkward at all…sometimes food is just delicious food, it doesn’t always have to have a particular story behind it. And anyway, yours kind of did – the Rachel Ray story! Great post :-)


    April 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

  3. Ha, I have posts like that but this post isn’t awkward at all. Sometimes you can just let the food speak for itself and this certainly does that!


    April 4, 2012 at 12:29 am

  4. I love this post! It’s more coversational than sort of story like but I like the variety – in a way its more of a feel for your personality! And I LOVE this recipe! You know me and bread at the moment (if you don’t we’re more of occasional friends for now). Ive. been going crazy for lettuce wraps, so this is perfect! Im also with you on the white meat probably. Although Im normally all about the dark meat, with Asian flavours I nearly always prefer white. Maybe it’s just habit of association…??


    April 4, 2012 at 6:31 am

  5. That was weird! It commented out of a blog I started for like 5 minutes (about 3 years ago) and have been logged out of ever since! Anyway – its me! Em!

    Em (Wine and Butter)

    April 4, 2012 at 6:32 am

  6. This recipe is wonderful I have tried it. Lettuce wraps are always so tasty.


    April 4, 2012 at 7:46 am

  7. It’s okay to have on off day Amy… gotta have one every once and a while. These look so tasty! I’m bookmarking it so I can make it once I start my low carb diet. LOL! like that will happen.

    Abbey Asaayi Davies

    April 4, 2012 at 4:17 pm

  8. Yum! I love having wraps with lettuce rather than bread. It’s so fresh and light! These looks really tasty.


    April 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm

  9. Looks great…I enjoyed it, even without the story ;) I should do a vegetarian version of this. I love lettuce cups. Great finger food!


    April 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

  10. It was DELICIOUS! Better than in a restaurant!


    June 20, 2012 at 1:32 pm

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