When our boys see Asian dishes on the menu, they tend to get excited. Builder Guy inevitably asks if we’re having Chinese dumplings with the meal, Top Gun requests Chinese chicken and broccoli whether it’s on the menu or not, and Monkey Boy says he just wants chicken (or a lollipop). Fortunately Monkey Boy generally comes around once we start eating, so we are progressing out of the annoying overly picky phase.
These chicken lettuce wraps are one of their favorites because they like the chicken and they like that it’s finger food. They are perfect for this week and the Chinese New Year celebration, and they make great party appetizers. I’ve doubled the original recipe from Helen Chen so we can have leftovers because the boys enjoy taking it to school and eating it for lunch with brown rice. They also like to help make it, though either Michael or I still take over on the stir-frying. As they grow older and learn more about kitchen safety we’ll give them more opportunities to get behind the wok.
All the ingredients can be found in well-stocked grocery stores or international stores, though you can substitute fresh shiitake mushrooms for dried if you can’t find those. You can also find gluten-free versions of many of the sauces, which I have noted below. Read the labels carefully to make sure they are gluten-free.
This is how you make the chicken, as modeled by Builder guy, age 8, and Michael, age withheld.
Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water.
Make the marinade and stir in the chicken.
Make the sauce.
Chop the vegetables.
Wash and dry the lettuce.
Sitr-fry the chicken and vegetables.
How Adults Can Help the Kids
- Demonstrate and assist with any tasks that might be new: measuring, stirring, pouring, chopping, stir-frying.
- Assign the simpler tasks, such as mixing the marinade and sauce and washing and drying the lettuce leaves, to the younger kids, and save the more challenging tasks for the older kids and adults.
- Make sure an adult is present at all times.
- Young children should not handle sharp knives or hot woks. Make sure an adult or older child or teenager does the chopping and stir-frying.
- The oil in the wok will be hot, so be careful when adding the chicken and watch for splatters.
[Updated January 2012.]
Chinese Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- 2 medium bowls
- small bowl
- 16 medium dried shiitake mushrooms (softened in hot water for 15 minutes)
- 6 teaspoons cornstarch (divided)
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free Chinese cooking wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free light soy sauce
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free hoisin sauce
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free dark soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons gluten-free chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons gluten-free chili-garlic sauce (or more to taste)
- 8 ounces canned bamboo shoots (diced)
- 8 ounces canned water chestnuts (diced)
- 4 stalks celery (diced)
- 1 cup petite frozen peas (thawed)
- 6 scallions (thinly sliced)
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 6 sliced unpeeled fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- romaine lettuce leaves (washed and patted dry, torn in half)
- cooked brown rice
- While the mushrooms soak, whisk together 4 teaspoons of cornstarch, wine, and light soy sauce in a medium bowl. Add the chicken and mix well.
- In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons cornstarch, sugar, hoisin sauce, dark soy sauce, chicken broth, and chili-garlic sauce. Make sure the cornstarch is completely dissolved.
- Drain the mushrooms and squeeze them dry. Remove the stems and discard, then chop the rest into bite-size pieces. In a medium bowl, combine the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, celery, thawed peas, and scallions.
- Pour the canola oil into the bottom of a cold wok and add the sliced ginger. Heat until the wok and oil are very hot and the ginger releases its fragrance. Remove the ginger and discard. Add the chicken mixture and cook while stirring until the chicken is cooked and crumbly, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vegetables and stir well, cooking until they are heated through, about 2 to 3 more minutes. Stir in the sauce and continue cooking for about 1 more minute. Drizzle the sesame oil over it all and stir. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and serve with the lettuce leaves and rice.
More Delicious Chinese Recipes
For the complete list of The Kids Cook Monday recipes, visit my Cooking with Kids page.