Customizable braised chicken lettuce wraps

Living in an RV means I don’t get to entertain guests very often. At the most, I’ve had a total of four people at once in my little home on wheels. However, it’s hard to ignore the joy I feel when I can help create a happy atmosphere of good food, kickin’ tunes, and drinks to keep the party going. A few weeks ago, I got to cook for a little get together at my friend’s place in Phoenix, using their kitchen to prepare dinner. I brought most of my own ingredients and the evening ended with wide smiles and full bellies.

Some concepts about entertaining began to flower in my head after that night, which is also where I got the idea to write about simplified menu construction for parties. Here are some more tips which have sprouted from that experience.

  • Get your guests involved and speed up the prep of vegetables by asking for help. Assuming you know your guests, it shouldn’t be too tough to round up some assistance. Using your own knife and cutting board first, demonstrate the size, shape, and cutting technique that your helper can copy. Give them a knife and cutting board and watch how quickly the prep gets done.
  • Demonstrate a technique or cooking process, stopping at important parts to show guests what’s going on in your pan. Talk about how you like to develop flavors in your cooking and what ingredient combinations you’ve enjoyed lately. Encourage guests to share as well.
  • Let guests taste as you go to whet their appetites and build anticipation for the finished product.
  • Create a meal with plenty of personal customizations so your guests can build exactly what they want. Recipes like tacos, fajitas, or lettuce wraps are all perfect for this because you can include a wide assortment of additions for endless adaptations.

This last point is directly related to the dinner I created for my friends a few weeks ago, which was when I put together some braised chicken lettuce wraps. I wanted to create a super moist and flavorful chicken filling with lots of optional additions to make the wraps customizable.

I accomplished this by including little bowls of diced cucumber, tomato, sliced green olives, and some hummus I whipped up earlier using a modified version of Erin’s recipe. My friends provided some of their own additional condiments as well, like some Sambal Oelek (a spicy chile and garlic sauce) which gave the wraps a welcome kick. The customizable nature of the wraps let us try different amounts of each ingredient which is something we all loved.

Braised Chicken Lettuce Wraps

(makes roughly 15 – 20 wraps)

  • 3 tsp coriander seed
  • 3 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 1 whole chicken, skin removed and cut into eight pieces (or 4 leg portions separated into drumsticks and thighs)
  • 2 tsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup water or chicken broth
  • 1 head butter lettuce, washed and separated into individual leaves
  • 2 cups hummus
  • 1 1/2 cups diced cucumber
  • 1 1/2 cups diced tomato
  • 1 cup sliced green olives

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Toast the coriander and cumin over medium high heat in a pan until fragrant (about two minutes) then transfer to a coffee grinder and pulse until powdery. Mix this with the salt and pepper then rub into the chicken pieces.

Heat a dutch oven over medium heat on a stove burner and add 1 tsp canola oil. Cook chicken pieces in two batches until each side is golden brown (roughly four minutes per side, flipping once), using more oil as needed. If using a whole chicken, cut into pieces, arrange dark meat as the bottom layer of the dutch oven, then add white meat on top. No specific layering is needed if you are only using leg portions. Add the water or broth, cover, than transfer to the oven. Allow to braise for 45 minutes, or until chicken is falling off the bone.

Meanwhile, gather and arrange all other ingredients using individual bowls, lining them up for easy lettuce wrap assembly. Leave a space at the beginning of the line for the chicken when it comes out of the oven.

When chicken is done, transfer it to a cold plate and roughly break apart the largest pieces using two forks. When it has cooled enough to touch, use your fingers to remove and discard bones and cartilage while further breaking up the meat. Return meat to dutch oven with braising liquid and place with the other lettuce wrap ingredients. Enjoy with friends.

3 comments posted

  1. Posted by Zen friend - 03/29/2011

    This sounds like a winner on several levels. Food preparation = icebreaker/conversation starter + entertainment + the bonus of a made-to-taste meal.

  2. Posted by Nick - 04/01/2011

    Involvement of your guests in what you’re cooking for them is also a great technique for involving your children.

    I try to get my children to eat as wide a variety of meat, fruit and veg as possible and I find that by involving them in the preparation of their meal it gets them interested and involved.

    Children being children they can’t help but pick and try what they’re preparing with you – I’ve introduced both of them to a wide range of things that normally they’d turn their nose up at if I dumped it in front of them on a plate.

    The current favourite is preparing their own pizza’s – toppings and everything – although making meatballs is a close second.

    It’s also good for the cook – its far more fun for you if you have company and can show off what you’re making for dinner than to be stuck in the kitchen while everybody is having a chat and drinking wine in another room – perhaps not so much of a problem in an RV (although I suppose that they might all be outside instead !)

  3. Posted by Matt Fetissoff - 04/05/2011

    Nick: I definitely know what you mean by being stuck in the kitchen while everyone is off drinking wine in the other room! Memories of those experiences have trained me to always prepare for dinner parties from now on.

Subscribe to this entry's comments

Comments are closed for this entry.