What Are Chicken Lettuce Cups?

Eugene P.

Chicken lettuce cups are a way to serve chicken that usually is minced, shredded, ground or chopped so it is presented inside a leaf of lettuce that acts like a bowl to hold the chicken and other ingredients. In some instances, chicken lettuce cups are designed to be eaten with utensils, in which case the lettuce is either mostly ornamental or made to be cut and eaten in pieces with the chicken. Other times, especially in some Asian preparations, the lettuce cups are meant to be folded over and eaten with the hands like a wrap or burrito. The chicken inside the lettuce can be prepared in any number of ways, although all the ingredients generally are chopped into small bite-size pieces and very runny sauces are avoided to help maintain the presentation. Chicken lettuce cups are a traditional dish in some Asian cuisines, but their popularity in other types of cooking can be partially attributed to their adoption by several commercial restaurant chains.

Escarole can be used in chicken lettuce cups.
Escarole can be used in chicken lettuce cups.

The type of lettuce used to make chicken lettuce cups can vary, although the two most popular types are iceberg lettuce and Boston bib lettuce. Iceberg lettuce provides strong leaves on which to seat the chicken, while bib lettuce has a more delicate, softer taste. Other types of lettuce that can be used include escarole for a distinctive flavor or romaine lettuce leaves. The key is to choose a type of lettuce with leaves that are large enough and strong enough to support the chicken.

Mung beans, which are often used to make chicken lettuce cup.
Mung beans, which are often used to make chicken lettuce cup.

When making the filling for chicken lettuce cups, the first step is to cook chicken, whether by frying, stir-frying or roasting the pieces. Once cooked, the chicken can be cut into bite-size chunks, shredded or chopped into small cubes. Alternately, ground chicken can be used for a finer texture and easier preparation. Like any chicken recipe, the poultry can be marinated first or cooked with ingredients such as soy sauce, sesame oil, butter, onions or white wine for added flavor.

After the chicken is cooked, the rest of the recipe can be composed of almost anything. An Asian recipe for chicken lettuce cups may add mushrooms, water chestnuts, mung beans, peppers, onions, carrots, celery, garlic and ginger. For a Mediterranean version, tomatoes, olives, artichokes, mozzarella cheese, onions and lemon juice can be used. Mexican-style chicken lettuce cups can be made by mixing chicken with salsa, cumin, cilantro and peppers, and sprinkling the finished cup with some shredded cheese.

To assemble chicken lettuce cups, the lettuce leaves usually are crisped beforehand so they are cold, and then dried thoroughly. The hot filling for the lettuce cups is then spooned into the lettuce, along with any additional toppings. The amount of filling used can vary, with large amounts indicating the dish should be eaten with utensils and lesser amounts providing enough space for the lettuce to be folded and eaten like a wrap.

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