Lettuce Wraps with Sesame-Orange Chicken and Crunchy Rice

tonyr_pot_k  Ann writes: I’d love to learn how to make P.F. Chang’s stir-fried chicken lettuce wraps… or something close to them. Thoughts?

tonyr_cook_k  Tony’s take: Thanks for the question, Ann. I’ve never been to P.F. Chang’s (kinda wished I had; could have avoided years of crappy sports bars), but I have eaten (and made) enough lettuce wraps to know where you’re going: a bright chicken stir-fry, heavy on the textures and colors, served with lettuce cups for wrapping at the table. It’s a nice idea, especially now in the dead of winter; a way to break up the heavy and gray. There are all sorts of online posts hinting at P.F.’s secret recipe. My uninformed interpretation is simple: pair the chicken with a sweet sesame sauce, accented with fresh orange juice, and wrap and roll with a drizzle of hoisin sauce and a spoonful of crunchy rice. Healthy and fresh and very un-blah. Here’s how:

– Stir-frying chicken: The trick to stir-frying chicken is cooking it just through and little more.  Slicing the chicken small and uniform helps to this end.  Set the boneless breasts in the freezer for 10 minutes so they firm up and are easy to cut. Then coat with a corn starch marinade to keep the chicken moist. Finally, during the searing stage, make sure to pull the chicken from the pan before it cooks all the way through; it will finish cooking during the saucing stage.

– Crispy rice: P.F. Chang’s serves their lettuce cups with “crispy rice sticks”. At home, it’s easier to make crisp rice. Reheat a couple cups of leftover rice (I like Jasmine, pictured below) in a nonstick pan over medium heat until the rice kernels brown lightly and become crunchy. Toss with scallions and sesame seeds and serve with the chicken in the wraps.

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THE RECIPE (Serves 4; Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook Time: 10 minutes)

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1. “Marinate” the chicken: Rinse 1 ¼ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts (3 small) and then pat dry. Set in the freezer for 10 min to firm up. Trim any fatty patches and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Toss with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 Tbs. shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), 2 tsp. soy sauce, and 1 tsp. corn starch and let sit for 10 min.

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2. Stir-fry the chicken: Heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat for 1 min (so a droplet of water instantly evaporates when it hits the pan’s surface). Add 1 Tbs. canola oil and heat until shimmering hot, about 30 seconds. Add the chicken in a single layer and cook, undisturbed, until the pieces start to brown around the edges, 1 to 2 min. Cook, stirring, until the chicken loses its raw color but doesn’t cook through, 1 more min. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

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3. Finish the stir-fry: Still over medium-high heat, add another 1 Tbs. oil, 1/2 red bell pepper (cut in 1/2-inch dice), 1 small carrot (cut in 1/4-inch dice) and 3 scallions (trimmed and thinly sliced) and cook, stirring, until the vegetables brown in places and soften somewhat, 2 min. Add 1 garlic clove (minced) and cook, stirring, until it becomes fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add 3 1/2 oz. shiitake mushrooms (stemmed and cut in 1/2-inch pieces) and cook, stirring, until they start to soften, 1 to 2 min. Return the chicken to the pan. In a small bowl, mix 1/4 cup fresh orange juice, 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 Tbs. ketchup1 Tbs. soy sauce, 2 tsp. rice vinegar, 2 tsp. toasted sesame oiland 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds. Add this sesame mixture to the chicken and cook, tossing, until the chicken finishes cooking through and the sauce coats it nicely, 1 more min; add a splash of water if the sauce thickens, but the chicken isn’t cooked through. Serve with crisp rice (see above) in Boston lettuce leaves with a drizzle of hoisin sauce.

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