It was years and years ago that I had my first lettuce cup in a Thai restaurant. My first thought was "cool, Asian Taco”. My second thought was, "...damn this is good". I started making a version of chicken lettuce cups about 10 years ago, and every time I make them for friends and family they are a smash hit. It’s a dish that hits on so many different senses; the meat packs a ton of flavor from the Asain sauces, and the hot chicken gets offset by the cool, calming lettuce, with its crunchy texture. It’s also food that you get to play with. Pile the chicken high in bowl with the lettuce cups on the side, and at a party you can let folks make their own…everyone loves to get their hands a little dirty. Hope you give these a try and hope you like them as much as I do.
Recipe Overview and Keys to Success
To make the best Chicken Lettuce cups just make sure you pay attention to the following:
- Hoisin sauce is a key ingredient, and you can’t swap it out. It also need to cook for a few minutes in the pan to really develop the flavors. It’s the first flavoring agent I add to the chicken.
- While you can use ground chicken (which will save you time), the dish is really best with thigh meat, that you chop in a food processor. That gives the chicken the right size and texture. I would not use breast meat for this dish, as it can dry out pretty easily.
- Cook the chicken over very high heat to enhance the caramelization and the flavor. It’s hard to get this much chicken seared off to where the flavors really develop unless you’re willing to let the pan get really hot.
RECIPE FOR CHICKEN LETTUCE CUPS
Ingredients for Chicken Lettuce Cups (8 – 10 cups)
- 4 chicken thighs
- 4 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons Ginger
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 Diced red jalapeno pepper
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 3 tablespoons toasted pinenuts
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- 2 shallots diced
- 1 lime for the juice
- Butter lettuce
Making the Chicken Lettuce Cups
- Break apart the lettuce leaves from the base, wash, and keep them in the fridge
- Cut the chicken into 2 inch pieces and load about 1/3 into a food processor
- Pulse the food processor until the chicken meat is diced into pieces about a quarter inch wide. This should be 7 – 8 pulses of about 2 – 3 seconds each. Don’t over mix, or you’ll end up making chicken mouse
- Repeat with the remaining pieces of chicken and move it all to a holding bowl, then season with salt and pepper and mix together
- Heat a large sauté pan over high heat until it is very hot (I like to use a non-stick pan for this recipe), add some vegetable oil, and then the chicken to the pan
- Spread out the chicken in a uniform layer and allow it to sear for 3 – 4 minutes, or until the bottom is slightly browned
- Using a wooden spoon, start to toss the chicken and break it up. This will also allow the other side to cook
- Once cooked, add the hoisin sauce, the garlic, pepper and shallot, and stir to combine
- Add the honey and cook for another 3 – 5 minutes
- Turn the heat off and add the pinenuts, cilantro and sesame oil
- Stir to combine and taste for seasoning; add salt and pepper if needed
Move the chicken to serving bowl with the lettuce spread around the outside and people can make their own.
Wine Recommendation: Asian food can be tough with a lot of wines, you you may want to go with some Sake, or beer. However, I do really love Reilings with these lettuce cups, and think that's a great options for you.