Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Do you ever order a dish at a restaurant, and it is so delicious you want to try and recreate it at home?  Well that happens to me every time I try lettuce wraps.  I'm not sure exactly why I love them so much.  Is it the Asian flavors, the crunchy yet light and airy bean noodles, or the fun "play with your food factor" plus dipping sauce?  Put them all together and you have one fabulous tasty meal.

Asian chicken lettuce wraps are the bomb diggity!
I made these for the first time a few years back during our 31 nights of different dinners and they quickly became one of our regular staples.  I went looking for an easy, mom-friendly version and ended up making my own easy version with only a few ingredients.  You will need:  (full printable recipe at the end of the post)

4 partially defrosted Costco-sized chicken breasts
Yoshida's Original Gourmet Sauce
1 can water chestnuts
vegetable oil (for cooking meat and deep frying noodles)
dry bean threads
1 head bib or iceberg lettuce
Plum sauce for dipping

The trick to cutting the chicken into small cubes so that will fit nicely in a lettuce wrap comes from the fact they should not be all the way defrosted.  I found out if I wait until they are fully defrosted, they become mushy and it's really hard to cut nice small pieces. They just smoosh.  I usually put frozen chicken breasts in a 1-gallon zip lock bag and put it in some shallow water in the sink.  When they are no longer rock hard but still mostly frozen in the middle I will start slicing them.

mostly frozen chicken gives you very precise cuts and the ability to cube the meat easily.

This is also a great time to remove any fat or other undesirables.  Put the small cubed chicken in a bowl and set aside.  Next you want to drain a can of water chestnuts and chop them into a small dice as well.  This will add fabulous crunch and texture to your wraps.

Add these to the chopped up chicken cubes

Now you can go ahead and make your own time consuming sauce here, with onions, ginger, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, herbs, etc... OR you can just use my favorite sauce of all time because it's already got it all IN there.  That's right it's Yoshida's Original Gourmet Sauce.

The best cooking sauce for meat ever

Pour around 1/2 cup (at least) of the sauce into the bowl with your chicken and water chestnuts.  

You can eyeball it here, just make sure there is enough sauce to coat everything in the bowl.  Put everything into the fridge now and let it marinate for at least a half an hour (I've done up to a few hours before too, no problem)

While that is chilling out you can prepare your lettuce.  Pick which ever style of lettuce you like, but bib and iceberg lettuce makes nice "cups" in which to create wraps from.  Cut the head in half, then cut one of the halves into two quarters.  From here it is easy to peel off each outer layer (working in) to make a nice pile of lettuce cups. Rinse if needed and shake dry.

The other thing you can do while the meat is marinating is to make the fluffy crunchy bean threads.  Now don't get frightened off, but these are the things where you put them in hot oil and they poof up eight times their size in a millisecond, sounding like a fireball erupting in a sizzling blaze of glory.  Be ye not afraid.  They are really fun.  This is what the package looks like:

You will find these in the Asian aisle of your super market.  They come in a three-pack
The little loaves of bean threads are as hard as a rock.  You can not cut them in half or break them apart.  They are sharp too.

a hard little unyielding loaf of bean threads
Normally these take a lot of oil to create but I have found a way to make them without wasting a ton of oil.  First get a medium sauce pan and fill it with a little over an inch of oil.  You want to make sure that however deep your pot is, that the oil will come up to a little over half of your bean thread brick

Next, turn the burner on to medium high to high. My dial was up past 8, close to 9 on the settings.   After a few minutes you want to see the liquid moving under the surface and you will smell hot oil.  You need to do a few tests to see if the oil is hot enough to poof the noodles.  I will usually drop a small broken piece in to see what happens.

oil for the bean threads not hot enough in this picture
If it does nothing exciting and sinks to the bottom then the oil is not hot enough.  If it makes a loud crackling sound and poofs up and floats on the top, it's ready.  Now comes the fun part, and you will need metal tongs.  Do not use a plastic spoon or spatula because it will melt (don't ask me how I know this...). Drop in your load of bean threads...

taking a picture with one hand and dropping bean threads in hot oil at the same time - how much do I love you to get the shot?!
They will expand immediately with a resounding "whoosh" and sizzle.  After only a few seconds you are now ready to turn the entire loaf over very carefully (using metal tongs) and do the same to the second side.  

Flipping them over so both sides get cooked is what saves a lot of oil.  I recommend turning on your overhead vent or fan as the hot oil smell can permeate your house.  Turn the noodles out on a paper towel-covered plate and let them cool.  You can easily break them apart after that and you will be surprised how fragile and light they are compared to before.

By the way, it is fortunate they give you three bean thread loaves to work with.  Here is an example of being overzealous.  I thought the oil was hot enough the first time, but it actually wasn't.  The one on the left is my first attempt and some of the noodles still were hard, especially in the middle.  

          left side, the oil was not hot enough               the right side the hotter oil poofed the bean threads much higher

I waited a few minutes more for the oil to get hotter, and the one on the right (above) is the second attempt and the one that poofed up the most and turned out the best .

Now it is time to cook the meat.  Bring the marinated chicken out and let it lose a little bit of it's chill sitting on the counter (coming up to room temp).  Normally you would cook something like this in a wok, but I do not have one, so we are going to imitate that technique by using very high heat and cooking it in small batches.

Place 1-2 Tablespoons of oil in the bottom of a pan and turn your stove top up to 8 or 9.  Once the pan is very hot, put in a couple of scoops of your chicken water chestnut marinade.  The hot pan will cook the chicken in only a few minutes.  Move the meat around rapidly turning it over with your spatula to cook the chicken on all sides.  When it loses it's pink color and turns all white it is done.  Pour the batch into a waiting (new) bowl.  Keep cooking the meat in small batches until it is done.  After that, you are ready to assemble your plates.

Simply place a pile of lettuce cups, a handful of puffy bean threads, and the chicken onto each plate.

Mmmm I wish you could smell and taste these lettuce wraps.  One of my all time favorite dinners!
For an added bonus I highly recommend plum sauce for dipping.

Pour some into a small microwave safe bowl for 20 seconds at a time until heated through.  Serve on the side of the plates for people to drizzle the plum sauce over their lettuce wraps at will.

pure deliciousness I tell you.
To assemble a lettuce wrap (for the novice) grab a lettuce "cup", place a spoonful of chicken mixture, some bean threads, and drizzle some plum sauce on top.  Wrap the lettuce around the filling (like a taco) and eat.  It's messy fun, so be sure to have a lot of extra napkins on hand.

I tend to make extra when I make this recipe and freeze half the meat mixture (it freezes very well).  Then, some night down the road when I am not in the mood to cook but craving them, I just defrost them earlier in the day, bring home a head of lettuce, fry up some bean threads, re heat the meat, and bam, dinner is ready. I hope you enjoy these, we absolutely love them.  Full printable recipe found here.


Archie said...

Gawd I love these things!

Our friend, Kyung, used to make these with beef or pork and black & brown rice... which is dark purple, go figure.

Amelia said...

Hi Jenn, I love this... one of the most appetizing snack. Yours look awesome.

Have a nice week ahead,regards.

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