Friday, April 27, 2012

Lettuce Wraps

Sometime in my early teen years, after my brother was out of the house at college but before my sister had left, my mom was given a rather large gift certificate to the famous P.F. Chang’s.  Being the great mother that she is, she decided not to hoard it all to herself, but rather to spend it on us.  And my 13 year old self could not have been more excited.  To me, it was a big deal.  I had never eaten there before, but heard so much about it.  In my mind, P.F. Chang’s was a special place, a fancy place.  Expensive Chinese food and cloth napkins and the such.  And the lettuce wraps?  Oh, the lettuce wraps!  They are supposed to be the stuff of dreams.  For a whole week, it was all I dreamed of.

Finally the weekend came and we sat down.  The waiter did some magic voodoo with the sauces, there were black cloth napkins and awesome sleek chopsticks ( my sister and I may or may not have lifted a few pairs, to stick in our super awesome early 2000’s hairdos) and lettuce wraps were ordered.  I don’t even think I ate my entire first one.  Me and those lettuce wraps did not vibe.  Maybe it was all the hype, all the build up.  I’ve had them since, but still my opinion remains the same; I am just not a fan.  There are few in my camp.  As if not liking P.F. Chang’s lettuce wraps is a sin equivalent to not liking Oreos, or freedom.

Ben, of course, is in the other camp.  The few times we have visited P.F. Chang’s, he always manages to talk me into ordering a plate.  I’ll eat the obligatory 1 serving and he usually takes care of the rest.  I still don’t know what it is, but what I think it comes down to is that I would rather save room in my stomach for the other deliciousness.  Cause it’s not like there’s a shortness of it at P.F. Chang’s.

Anyways, long story short, I was surprised as anyone when I was flipping through an old Bon Appetit on my bookshelf, and the recipe for lettuce wraps caught my eye.  Maybe it was a “of course I can do it better myself” or just my cute girlfriend-like ways of aiming to please (ha), but I decided to try them out.  I think won’t caught me was the chicken thighs.  I love chicken thighs.  I always have chicken thighs... and it’s not like lettuce wraps ever tasted badly.  I was sure that, with the option of nothing else to eat, lettuce wraps would do quite nicely.

And they did.  Presentation skills severely lacking as they are, these were good.  Yes, a few adaptations were made (mostly out of necessity) and my one big downfall was that my grocery store apparently doesn’t believe in butter lettuce.  Well, that and my decision that a heart of romaine would be a worthy substitute.  The reviews online said “just as good as P.F. Chang’s”, which is saying a lot because most people believe nirvana is introduced by P. F. Chang’s lettuce wraps.  My review?  Even better.

Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from BA's June 2011 Issue

Online reviews suggested a little more seasoning, up to double the amount, so I adjusted accordingly.  I also forgot the cashews on top, but I think they would have added a much needed crunch.  The romaine helped the crunchiness factor, but that will be lost if you use the proper butter lettuce (and you should!).

These smell delicious while they are cooking.  They come together quickly.  And really, they do taste fantastic, and that’s coming from an “eh, lettuce cups” camper!  Further proof?  They were slapped in the big green cookbook the following day.

One last thing... and then the recipe, I promise.  Boy, I am wordy today.  Recipe says serves 8 as an appetizer.  That might be stretching it (like 1 wrap/person).  Was a perfect light meal for 2 with no leftovers.  Adjust accordingly!

3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, minced
2 scallions, minced
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. walnut oil
4 medium oyster mushrooms, stemmed and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
~1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 c. roasted cashews, chopped

For Serving:
16 large butter lettuce leaves
Asian sweet chili sauce, for dipping

To mince chicken, chop into chunks and place in food processor.  Pulse until minced, be careful not to go too far - you don't want ground chicken meat.

In medium bowl, combine minced chicken, scallions, soy sauce and cornstarch, mix thoroughly.  Let marinade 10-15 minutes, tossing occasionally.  In a large, non-stick skillet, heat oil until very hot.  Add mushrooms and garlic, stir-frying for 30 seconds - 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add chicken mixture, including all extra marinade and continue to stir fry.  Toss often and cook until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.

On platter, arrange lettuce leaves, a bowl with dipping sauce and cooked chicken mixture.  Sprinkle with chopped cashews.  Serve and enjoy!

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