(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

For all the times I have ordered chicken lettuce wraps at Chinese restaurants like P.F. Chang's, inhaled entire "appetizers" by myself, and sighed with happiness while licking sticky sauce from my fingers, it never once occurred to me to try making this dish at home. Partly, lettuce wraps have always felt like an indulgence that needed restriction to restaurant visits only. Partly, I assumed that the secret to their deliciousness surely lay in a long list of ingredients, fussy technique, or both.

You see where I'm heading here, yes? We can definitely make chicken lettuce wraps at home. It's actually super easy and makes a surprisingly quick and healthy weeknight meal. Pick up what you need on your way home, and you can have these for dinner tonight.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

The Secret Sauce

I can't claim to know what P.F. Chang's or other Chinese restaurants put in their secret sauce, but I feel pretty happy with my own. The key ingredient is hoisin — a sweet, salty, slightly tangy, spiced sauce that's like the Chinese equivalent to American barbecue sauce. Here, I mix it with some soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil to make a sticky glaze for the chicken in our wraps.

This sauce is what gives the chicken filling its rich, savory depth. And (in my professional opinion) what makes these wraps so incredibly addictive, both at restaurants and at home.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

The Chicken Filling

Of course, a secret sauce requires a delivery vehicle, and in this case, ground chicken does the job. This is one place where the relatively light and mild flavor of chicken is a boon — any other meat would make this dish too rich. I like the chewy, nubbly texture of ground chicken (or turkey) in this dish, though you could mince some chicken breasts or thighs if you'd prefer.

To round out the filling, add some diced mushrooms, water chestnuts, garlic, and ginger. I especially love the water chestnuts — their wet crunchiness is always a nice surprise in each bite!

The Lettuce Wrap

Bibb or butter lettuce are my picks for these wraps. They have sturdy, broad leaves that hold a good amount of filling without major risk of everything falling apart. Look for relatively small heads with fresh outer leaves that show no signs of wilting.

You could also use long leaves of romaine, cut into a few pieces, or even a hearty green, like swiss chard or collards.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Chicken lettuce wraps are a true 30-minute meal, even including the time to chop up the vegetables. As we veer into the warmer months, this is a meal that won't heat up your kitchen or feel too heavy to eat. It hits that magical middle zone of being both very satisfying and also surprisingly light and refreshing.

But wait, there's more! I've found that the chicken filling keeps well in the fridge. This means that I can make a big batch for dinner and then have the leftovers for lunch over the next few days, or make this for a party without cooking until the last minute. Add a splash of chicken broth if the filling looks dry; otherwise, heat up what you need in the microwave.

How To Make Chicken Lettuce Wraps - Recipe
Mix together the sauce: Combine 3 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Whisk to combine with a fork and keep near the stove. If you'd like a more thickened, glossy sauce, whisk in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch.

How To Make Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Serves 2 to 4 as a main course, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer or side dish

What You Need

Ingredients
3 to 5 tablespoons hoisin sauce (gluten-free, if needed)
2 tablespoons soy sauce (or 1 tablespoon tamari, if gluten-free)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch, optional
1 pound ground chicken, white meat or dark meat (or ground turkey)
2 teaspoons vegetable oil, divided
8 ounces mushrooms, chopped small
1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and chopped small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece ginger, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 cup sliced green onions (from about 6 green onions), divided
2 small heads Bibb or butter lettuce
Red pepper flakes, to serve
Hot sauce, to serve
Optional extras: chopped onions, chopped bell peppers, chopped or grated carrots

Equipment
Measuring spoons and cups
Skillet

Instructions

  1. Mix together the sauce: Combine 3 tablespoons of the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sesame oil in a small bowl. Whisk to combine with a fork and keep near the stove. If you'd like a more thickened, glossy sauce, whisk in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch.
  2. Cook the ground chicken: Heat a teaspoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the ground chicken and cook until cooked through and no longer pink, 7 to 8 minutes. Break up the chicken into small crumbles as you cook. Transfer the cooked chicken to a clean bowl.
  3. Cook the vegetables and aromatics: Warm the other teaspoon of oil in the skillet. Add the mushrooms, along with any other optional extra vegetables you want, and cook until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in the water chestnuts, garlic, and ginger, and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  4. Combine the vegetables and chicken: Transfer the cooked chicken back to the pan with the vegetables, along with half of the green onions.
  5. Stir in the sauce: Pour the sauce over the top of the chicken mixture and stir to coat. Cook just until you hear bubbling and the sauce is warmed through, 30 to 60 seconds. Taste a spoonful of the mixture and add more hoisin sauce if you'd like a stronger flavor.
  6. Serve with the lettuce: Break off all the lettuce leaves and pile them on a plate in the center of the table, along with small dishes with hot sauce, red pepper flakes, and the remaining sliced green onions. Transfer the hot chicken mixture to a serving dish, or serve straight from the skillet. Give everyone a spoon and let them dig in — place a generous spoonful of chicken mixture in the middle of a lettuce leaf, top with green onions and hot sauce or red pepper flakes, and eat right away.

Recipe Notes

  • Make-Ahead Chicken Mix: The chicken filling keeps very well in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Reheat just what you need and add a splash of chicken broth if the mixture seems dry.