Family Meal AND Party Food Alert: Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups!
I first had a version of this about 20 years ago at Yank Sing restaurant in San Francisco. It was made with squab, and it was one of my favorite dim sum items.
Now that I have three kids and live in (West) Rye, NH, squab isn't really an option. Luckily, chicken is just as delicious, and it's a fun Asian-y twist on taco night. All three kids (even the little one, who would subsist on bacon and Twix bars if it were up to her) gobbles this up. I just serve this with a side of rice (brown, if I feel like fighting with everyone at the table, white if I'm tired), and a simple vegetable like stir-fried broccoli or asparagus.
I love to serve this at grown-up parties, too, as part of a buffet. You can make it 100% ahead, and just rewarm (even microwave) briefly. Definitely a fan favorite.
Make sure the lettuce is very cold when you serve it. One of the secrets is the combination of the ice-cold crunchy lettuce with the warm gingery chicken filling.
And it's gluten and dairy-free (as long as the sausage is)!
For 4 servings as a main course, 6-8 as part of a bigger meal
1 head (as-cold-as-an) iceberg lettuce
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs (see note below)
2 links Chinese sausage, preferably from Carl's Meat Market
8 oz crimini mushrooms, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Vegetable or olive oil
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger (use a microplane to make this job a LOT easier)
1/2 cup finely minced water chestnuts (celery works in a pinch, too)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 scallions, finely sliced
Freshly ground pepper (pink or szechuan if you got it, but black is good too)
Sesame oil, to taste
Toasted pine nuts
Sriracha, Gochujang or hot sauce of your choice, or thinly-sliced red serrano peppers
More soy sauce
Freshly ground pink, szechuan or black pepper
Fresh herbs, like parsley, chives, mint or basil-- or a mix
Remove the core from the lettuce and gently separate the leaves. Use a knife or scissors to cut the leaves into cup shapes. Refrigerate. Put chicken thighs in freezer for about 20-30 minutes. This makes it easier to mince them.
While chicken is chilling, remove casing from sausage links, and put loose sausage into a large skillet or wok. Cook over medium-low heat (don't get the pan too hot, because the sugar in the sausage makes it burn easily), breaking it up with the back of a spoon until it's cooked through but still juicy. With a slotted spoon, remove sausage from pan and set aside.
Drain all but a tablespoon or so of the sausage fat. Crank the heat and add the minced mushrooms, and saute until mushrooms release a lot of their liquid. Add soy sauce, then add mushrooms in with the sausage. Set aside again.
Mince the chicken.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the chicken, and ginger. Season with kosher salt. Cook until the chicken loses its translucency, about 3 minutes. Add the cooked mushrooms, sausage and water chestnuts. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the oyster sauce, scallions and pepper. Let simmer until the whole mixture is heated through Remove from the heat, and drizzle with sesame oil.
Spoon the mixture onto a platter, and serve with the chilled lettuce cups and small bowls of pine nuts, hoisin and chile sauces, soy sauce, ground pepper(s) and fresh herbs.
To eat: Each diner takes a lettuce cup, adds dabs of sauce(s), spoons in some of the filling, sprinkles on nuts and herbs, then eats the whole thing like a taco.
Note: For a weeknight dinner in a pinch, use ground chicken or turkey. It won't be quite as delicious, but a lot easier than mincing chicken after soccer practice.