The Chinese year 4712 begins on Friday. As a nod to my Chinese heritage, I decided to make “San Choy Bao” or lettuce cups. Lettuce cups, also referred to as lettuce wraps, can be served as a hearty appetizer or as a light main dish. Pine nuts, added to the tasty stir-fry mixture and sprinkled on top, bring an interesting flavor twist and crunch to these lettuce cups. Gung Hay Fat Choy!
Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups
Based on a recipe in Chinatown, a cookbook by Ross Dobson
1 lb 2 oz boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into chunks
2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine, divided use
4 small dried shiitake mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar
1/3 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 green onions (scallions), white part chopped and green part thinly sliced
2 small red chilies, finely chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, divided use
1/4 cup water chestnuts, roughly chopped
8 iceberg lettuce leaves, washed and chilled
Hoisin sauce, to taste
Sweet chili sauce, optional
1. Put the chicken and 1 tablespoon of the rice wine into a food processor and process until the chicken is chopped. Refrigerate for a few hours, or until ready to use.
2. Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl, cover with boiling water and soak for 20-30 minutes. Squeeze out the excess liquid from the mushrooms, then remove and discard the stems and finely chop the caps. Reserve 1/4 cup of the soaking liquid.
3. Combine the sugar, stock, oyster sauce, remaining rice wine and the reserved mushroom soaking liquid in a bowl, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
4. Heat a wok over high heat and add the oil, swirling the oil around to coat the wok. When the oil reaches smoking point, add the garlic, ginger, spring onion whites and chillies and cook for a few seconds.
5. Add the chicken and half the pine nuts and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked, stirring constantly to break up the chicken.
6. Add the mushrooms and water chestnuts and stir-fry for 1 minute.
7. Add the sauce mixture, pouring it down the side of the wok, and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes, or until the sauce has almost evaporated.
8. Serve in a bowl, sprinkled with the slivered green onions, the remaining pine nuts, and the lettuce on the side. Assemble these at the table, two per person.
Serves 4 as a starter
1. Chicken thighs are preferred over chicken breasts, because chicken breasts tend to be too dry.
2. I ran out of shaoxing rice wine, so I substituted dry sherry.
3. I followed the instructions and grated the ginger, but next time I will just finely mince it.
4. Toast the pine nuts in a skillet on medium-heat until they are a pale golden in color. This brings out the flavor of the nuts. Keep an eye on them while toasting, because they burn easily. I toasted more than called for, because I served it as a topping option, rather than as a garnish. If you don’t like pine nuts, you can substitute unsalted, roasted chopped cashews.
5. As mentioned above, I used the pine nuts as a topping. I also sliced extra green onions to use as a topping, too. Fresh cilantro leaves would also make another flavorful topping.
6. In my opinion, the meat mixture needed more flavor. That was easily solved by adding some hoisin sauce. It can either be added to the meat mixture before serving or you can serve hosin sauce on the side as a condiment. Sweet chili sauce can also be served as a condiment on the side.