After making the Chinese chicken salad, I had some iceberg lettuce left. My husband wanted to serve it as a classic American wedge salad with blue cheese dressing. I told him that I wanted to serve it as lettuce cups for a stir-fried mixture of chicken and tofu. I won when I reminded him that the Chinese lettuce cups went well with drinks. Plus, we had a date with friends for a homemade happy hour last Friday and I needed a tasty food contribution.
Lettuce cups are a popular appetizer on Chinese menus and those that are Asian inspired. They can be fanciful and made with minced squab, aged ham and Chinese sausage. I like something more casual and less rich, though still tasty.
The rendition that I made last Friday combines hand-chopped boneless chicken thigh and super-firm tofu. I'll admit this: the idea for these lettuce cups came from the Yard House – a very mainstream restaurant chain built on lots of beers on tap and snack foods. When I went to the one in San Jose, I was pleasantly surprised to see tofu on the menu, as well as a selection of vegetarian food. After visiting a few times, the chicken and tofu lettuce cups were arguably the best thing on their menu.
For this version, I dice super-firm tofu (the bricklike kind sold in vacumn sealed packages) and season it with two kinds of soy sauce to give it great mahogany color and savory flavor.
You could use seasoned pressed tofu instead and skip the soy sauce but I like to fry and sear the tofu a bit for more character.
The tofu sucks up the umami goodness from the chicken, mushroom and other seasonings. The lettuce cups were at big hit at the happy hour. There was a little envy for the person who got the very last bite.
Chicken, Tofu and Shiitake Lettuce Cups
Yield: Serves 4
as a snack
- 5 ounces super-firm tofu, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon plus 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- About 2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce
- 4 ounces ground or hand-chopped chicken thigh
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 to 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 tablespoon canola or peanut oil
- 2 slender green onions, chopped, white separated from green parts
- 2 large dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated, stemmed and chopped (1/3 cup)
- 1 red Jalapeno or Fresno chile, seeded and finely diced
- 8 to 10, iceberg lettuce leaves, trimmed and cut into 12 to 16 “cups”
- In a small bowl, toss the tofu with 1/2 teaspoon of dark soy sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of light (regular) soy sauce). Take a taste and add a touch more light soy sauce, if needed, for savory depth. In another bowl, combine the chicken and 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce. Set both aside.
- For a seasoning sauce, stir together 1 1/2 teaspoons light (regular) soy sauce with the white pepper, oyster sauce, and rice wine. Taste and tweak for a pleasant salty-sweet-earthy bite. Set aside.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat and toast the pine nuts for several minutes, shaking often, until they’ve picked up a bit of color. Pour into a bowl and reserve for later.
- Increase the heat on the wok to medium-high, swirl in the oil, and then fry the tofu. Shake and turn to richly brown the tofu as best you can. This takes 3 or 4 minutes. Push the tofu to the side, increase the heat to high, then add the chicken. Cook, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, until slightly cooked. Add the white part of the green onion, mushroom, and chile. Stir to combine well and cook for 30 to 60 seconds to heat through. Pour in the seasoning sauce and keep working the wok, till most of the liquid has disappeared, about 45 seconds.
- Remove from the heat, stir in the green part of the green onion and pine nuts. Taste and make any flavor adjustment with a bit of salt or extra white pepper. Transfer to a bowl or plate. To serve, put some of the stir-fried mixture in a lettuce cup, bundle it up and eat.
- Chinese Chicken Salad Recipe and Video Tip
- Crispy Scallion Tofu and Rice Cakes
- Tofu Frying Tips
- How to Stir-Fry Tofu
- Salt and Pepper Tofu
- Pressed Tofu Stir-fried with Celery
- Tofu, Bacon, and Kimchi Taco
- Fried Tofu and Egg Pancake
- Pan-seared Egg Tofu with Sweet Chile Sauce
- How to figure out different tofu textures (video)