San Choy Bau

With a couple of chicken breasts in the fridge, Priya and I pondered on a meal that would cure our craving for Asian food. San Choy Bau that also goes by the less exotic name of lettuce wraps was the choice, as it packs great flavour (and punch if you so desire) with great contrasting textures.  San Choy Bau is a combination of finely minced or diced meat and vegetables fried over high heat, creating quite a dry mixture.  As everything needed to be fine, we decided to cheat and use a food processor, chopping everything into more manageable sizes and pulsing them in the processor until the desired consistency was obtained.

We pulsed half a pound of Shiitake mushrooms, several chilies, 6 cloves of garlic, two chicken breasts, a stalk of lemon grass, a bunch of green onion, a can of bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, four kaffir lime leaves and the rind of a half a lime.

As our chicken breasts were whole we minced them in the food processor too, but buying pre-minced chicken works fine too.

When everything was prepared we added a generous amount of peanut oil to a wok and put it over high heat.  When the oil was shimmering and smoking we added the chicken mince.  Ensure that you allow the wok or pan to get extremely hot as this helps keep the mixture dry and colours the chicken nicely.

While the chicken mixture was cooking we made our sauce, which would be used to garnish the finished dish.  It contained fish sauce, sugar, soy sauce, sherry, lime juice (fresh is always better) and chilli.  The quantities were guessed, but go easy on the sherry and always taste and balance and taste again.

When the chicken was nicely browned we added the remaining vegetables and cooked over the highest heat our stove could handle. We also added a dash of sesame oil to the mixture at this point.

While the mixture continued to cook we covered a packet of vermicelli noodles with boiling water and left to cook through.  Once cooked we drained and cut them with scissors until quite small.

During the cooking process we also prepared the lettuce leaves, which entailed gently separating individual leaves from the iceberg lettuce to create cups.  We also sliced extra chili, cilantro and mint, which would all be used to garnish the finished product. To finish the chicken mixture we added a dash of fish sauce, pepper and sherry and cooked it off.   To eat, serve some of the chicken and vegetable mixture in individual lettuce wraps, with as much or as little of the sauce on top and garnish with mint, cilantro and chili.  A great dish for a fun, hands on dinner party or a healthy light meal during the week. Great cold the day after too.

-alex

San Choy Bau (Lettuce Wraps)