Lettuce Wraps

Lettuce Wraps recipe at bottom of page...

I don't know if when you travel in China you will find lettuce wraps on any menu, never having been there, I can't say for sure, but I doubt it.  I think some inspired chef in some Chinese restaurant kitchen somewhere in North America  invented it for an appetizer and it took off. And why not?  Light, tasty and delectably crunchy parcels of goodness would catch on anywhere wouldn’t you think?

I can't remember the first time I tasted them, but I do remember that when I did, I liked them immediately.  After eating them a couple of times I put on my investigators uniform and went to town to figure out the recipe. Was way before the preponderance of recipes for them on the internet we enjoy today, so I had to reverse engineer it at the restaurant.

So with some trial and error (all delicious) I settled on a recipe that has become a family favourite and has been for over 20 years. I usually use barbeque pork from the Chinese barbeque joint but if I don't have any of that handy I will use chicken and/or duck meat, depends on what is hiding in the fridge along with some cured Chinese sausage I normally have in the freezer.

So here we go, let's make some lettuce wraps.  You don't have to stick to this recipe exactly since it is a flexible recipe and you can use any meat you like, or if your one of THOSE meatless types, tofu is good too. Be adventurous and make some soon; I am sure it will become a family favourite too and it is sooooo easy to make it is ridiculous...

1 large head of iceberg lettuce
1 head of celery, about 8 stalks, cleaned and minced fine, about 3 cups when minced
2 cups finely diced cooked chicken, pork, beef, duck or tofu

4 ounces (3 pieces) Chinese sausage, cut lengthwise into 4 strips and then mince

1 - 8 ounce can bamboo shoots, minced

1 ounce dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water and then minced very fine, remove stem before mincing

1/4 cup onion, finely minced

2 Tbsp fresh garlic, pressed or finely minced
2 Tbsp chives or green onions, minced fine, I like to use flowering chives, very aromatic
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated fine

1 ounce mung bean threads (optional but I really like them)

2 Tbsp light soy sauce

1 Tbsp hot water
1 Tbsp oyster sauce

1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp fish sauce (optional but I like the salty taste it gives, be careful with this, it is powerful stuff)

1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup hoisin sauce

Okay so lets clean the lettuce first. Grab the lettuce firmly and hit the bottom (stem) against the counter-top to force it inwards.  Once suitably disciplined, the lettuce will  release the stem and you simply have to twist it out. Once the stem is out, place the head of lettuce upside down in the sink and run cold water through it. That will help release the individual leaves, carefully remove one leaf at a time until you have removed all useable ones.  Place on tray to drain and keep in the fridge until needed for dinner.

Place soy sauce, hot water, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce and sugar in a cup and mix well until sugar is dissolved, set aside.

In a large pot add 2 quarts canola oil and heat to 375 degrees.  Once to temperature, add 1 bundle of bean threads. The threads will expand rapidly. Once they stop expanding, about 20 seconds, flip over with a pair of tongs and cook 10 seconds more.Remove from oil and drain on paper towel.  Once cool, crush and place in a bowl to serve.

Place wok over medium heat, add oil, then add onion, ginger, chives, mushrooms and garlic, stir for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken and Chinese sausage, stir fry for 1 minute.

 Add the celery and the bamboo shoots, toss for 30 seconds then add the soy sauce mixture, then stir fry until the liquid has evaporated, about 2 minutes.

Once liquid has evaporated, place mixture onto serving platter and serve to deserving guests, if you have any that are deserving that is.
To serve these up, take a lettuce leaf and hold it like a cup.

Spoon about 2-3 tablespoons of celery filling, 2 tablespoons of crispy bean threads and about 1-2 teaspoons of hoisin sauce.

Once you have assembled the lettuce wrap, fold it like a taco and then go in for the first bite.  The proper position is:

Hold with both hands.
Hold both elbows out.
Hunch over plate to catch spillage.
Bite down and enjoy.  My youngest daughter is showing the proper and well practiced lettuce wrap eating technique and posture.

For those of you that are challenged in some manner or other, I offer lettuce wrap making lessons. The cost is minimal (red wine) and the results are terrific. Call 1-888-LETSWRAP for more instructions and fees...