Every country has a dish it thinks is Chinese. These dishes don’t originate in China, but are often good enough to be celebrated and enjoyed. In the UK, made-up Chinese food includes crispy ‘seaweed’ (deep-fried, shredded greens served with fish floss) and the ubiquitous chop suey. Americans can point at that peculiar sweet mustard, Crab Rangoon (no self-respecting Chinese dish contains cheese), and General Tso’s chicken.
The lettuce wrap is another of these mongrel dishes, but it’s so good that you can easily forgive it its roots and embrace it. Preferably with tongue and teeth.
To serve four people, you’ll need:
4 chicken breasts
1 inch piece of ginger, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
8 spring onions, sliced
1 red, yellow or orange pepper, diced
1 can water chestnuts, diced
3 sticks celery, diced
5 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in boiling water and diced
1 teaspoon sugar
1 wine-glass Chinese rice wine
4 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soya sauce
1 teaspoon cornflour
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of MSG (as usual, leave this out if you must, but read this first)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large lettuce (I used a Cos)
Put the chicken in a blender, and pulse gently until it’s chopped finely. You’re aiming for a texture like mince here, not like slurry, so be careful.
Stir-fry the ginger, garlic and spring onions together for three minutes, until their fragrance is filling the kitchen. Add the chicken and the cornflour, and stir-fry until the chicken is all white. Throw in the diced vegetables, stir-fry for another two minutes, then add the rice wine, the oyster sauce and the soya sauce with the MSG and sugar. Let the liquid ingredients start to bubble, and when the cornflour has made the sauce glossy and thick, stir in the sesame oil and transfer the mixture to a warm bowl.
Serve by spooning into the bowl of a lettuce leaf. I used a Cos lettuce, partly because of the charming spoon shape of a Cos leaf, but mostly because my choice was extremely limited; it’s near-impossible to buy whole lettuces these days, the whole world having gone mad for pre-mixed salads in bags.
Wrap the leaf around the hot, textured filling, and then wrap your mouth around the whole thing.