Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends.
Lettuce wraps sometimes get a bad rap as a healthier, yet lesser alternative to bread, but for dishes like this one, they’re a valuable vehicle that adds freshness and crunch.
Often, recipes for chicken-filled lettuce wraps call for ground chicken, but I prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which are more flavorful, less dry and far less prone to overcooking. Boneless, skinless chicken breast will work too. The flipside is that you’ll need to cut the chicken into small pieces so that it’s easier to eat, and also so the quick marinade infuses as much as flavor into it as possible. This admittedly takes some patience, but if you’re feeling a bit lazy and want to speed up the prep process, cut the chicken into larger cubes; they’ll just take a few extra minutes to cook through, so adjust accordingly. Use the largest pan you have for maximum cooking-surface area, and spread out the chicken with a spoon or spatula so it’s in an even layer.
The marinade, which brings together Asian cuisine staples, is salty with hints of sour and sweet; oyster sauce performs its usual magic of contributing depth and umami notes without overpowering the other components. It doesn’t take much of the mixture to flavor the chicken, so you’ll reserve most of it to reduce later into a thicker sauce for serving.
Tender Bibb lettuce (also known as butter lettuce) is a popular choice for wraps, but I’m team iceberg all the way. The crunch is unparalleled, and it’s a sturdier and more practical vessel for the chicken. You can even double up for further stability and less dripping. Look for intact leaves that are cupped, which sometimes means peeling through several layers. To avoid waste, I save any pieces that have tears or are too small and keep them in my fridge for a salad the next day. For particularly large pieces, I tear them in half so they’re easier to handle.
You can serve the lettuce cups already constructed, but letting each person build their own makes for a fun DIY dinner. Simply set out a serving platter with the chicken and another with the lettuce leaves, along with small bowls for the sauce, chopped cashews for an extra layer of crunch and some thinly sliced scallions if you’d like. Pull in additional condiment options, like sriracha or sweet chile sauce, to suit your tastes.
For an easy-to-enjoy wine to match the meal, go with a dry Riesling like Schloss Lieser Riesling Trocken Mosel SL 2019. It has all the crowd-pleasing components of a typical German Riesling like refreshing acidity, minerality and notes of orchard fruit, with details that add complexity such as white pepper and spice.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps
Pair with a dry, high-acid German Riesling such as Schloss Lieser Riesling Trocken Mosel SL 2019 (90 points, $20).
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 35 minutes
Total time: 55 minutes
Approximate food costs: $30
- 3/4 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small pieces (1/8 to 1/4 inch)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
- About 10 pieces of iceberg lettuce
- 1/4 cup cashews, chopped
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced (optional)
1. Whisk together oyster sauce, soy sauce, vinegar and brown sugar in a large bowl. Transfer about two-thirds of the mixture to a smaller bowl and set aside.
2. Add chicken pieces to the large bowl and stir to coat in the sauce, then let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes.
3. Heat vegetable oil in the largest pan you have over medium-high heat. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for 2 minutes until very fragrant, then add chicken. Stir occasionally until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes depending on the size of your pieces. (If you’re unsure, pull out a piece and test it with a meat thermometer to make sure the internal temperature has reached 165° F.) Transfer to a serving dish.
4. Set the same pan over medium heat. Add the remaining sauce and cook until reduced by about half, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer back to the small bowl.
5. Serve the chicken and a platter of lettuce leaves with the reduced sauce, cashews and scallions (if desired) on the side, and let each person assemble their own wraps. Serves 4.