Side Orders: P.F. Chang's lettuce wraps easy to replicate

Anne Braly

If you've ever been to P.F. Chang's, you know what I'm talking about when I say the lettuce wraps are the most-popular item on the appetizer menu, if not the entire menu. If you visit during happy hour, 3-7 p.m. on weeknights, you get a huge plateful for $6, enough for a meal.

Platter after platter are carried out of the kitchen loaded with the sweet-crunchy appetizer that, for many diners, doubles as an entree.

The chain has proprietary rights over their recipe, but it's fairly simple to replicate. In fact, the restaurant's lettuce wrap recipe is one of the most-copied in the restaurant industry, according to the company.

Most copycat recipes I've seen call for mixing the diced chicken with chopped mushrooms and water chestnuts, but you can make the filling for the lettuce wraps with beef, shrimp, pork or vegetables only.

P.F. Chang's uses iceberg lettuce for the wrapper, but have you ever tried wrapping anything with the crunchy inner leaves of a head of iceberg lettuce? They break apart. I don't know how P.F. Chang's does it or how many heads of lettuce are wasted trying to get a few perfect leaves, but according to their website, they go through more than 3 million heads a year. That's a lot of lettuce.

My preference when making lettuce wraps is to use the softer Bibb lettuce or any other variety of smaller lettuce that has more "give" to the leaves.

If you're making the wraps with beef, pork and shrimp, you'll need to adjust the cooking times accordingly.

Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wraps

1/4 cup hoisin sauce

3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon (or to taste) Asian chili paste (Sambal Oelek) or chili-garlic sauce

16 ounces chicken breast, cut into 1-inch chunks

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1 large red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces

1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated

1 head of Bibb lettuce, leaves separated

Serving sauce:

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 teaspoon sesame oil, optional

1 to 2 teaspoons Asian chili paste

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

In a medium bowl, whisk hoisin sauce, soy sauce, water and chili-garlic sauce together in large bowl; set aside. In a food processor, pulse the chicken until it's just coarsely chopped, 5-10 pulses. Do this in two batches if your food processor is small.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, and cook until no longer pink, 4-5 minutes. Transfer chicken to bowl with hoisin mixture. Stir to combine.

In the same skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the bell pepper and water chestnuts. Cook until bell pepper softens, about 3 minutes. Add ginger, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken mixture to skillet, bring to simmer, and heat through, about 1 minute. Transfer to serving dish.

In small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients, adjusting to taste. If you want it spicy, add more chili paste.

To serve, spoon chicken mixture into lettuce leaves. Serve with the sauce on the side for drizzling over chicken.

Inside out s'mores

Stuffed Puffs have turned the s'mores world inside out. Rather than the marshmallow being roasted over the fire and a separate chocolate bar put on top and smashed between two graham crackers, the company has totally reinvented marshmallows by putting the chocolate inside the marshmallows so that they both melt together. It's such a clever idea. You still roast the marshmallows over the fire - just as you would with making s'mores the traditional way - but you don't have to mess with a separate chocolate bar. Just roast the marshmallow, stick it between two graham crackers and enjoy your s'more just as you would have years ago.

Stuffed Puffs are available in Walmart stores for $3.98 for a 10-ounce bag filled with 16 Stuffed Puffs, enough for 16 s'mores - or eight, if you like to double up - which is a bargain considering you don't have to pay for separate chocolate bars.

Two Ten Jack

If you've not yet experienced Two Ten Jack, I recommend you go without delay. It takes Japanese dining to a new level in Chattanooga. I made my first visit just a couple of weeks ago, and I'm sorry it took so long to do so. Every bite of my meal was outstanding. We ate a lot, and that's something I may not do again after getting on the scale the following morning. But two dishes stood out - and I will be ordering them again: the Japanese fried chicken served with a nice soy-sauce-based negi sauce for dipping; and the Spicy Crab Garlic Noodle ramen dish. It was not too spicy but extremely filling, thicker than the other ramen bowls, and unbelievably good.

Two Ten Jack is located in the lowest level - below the sidewalk - at Warehouse Row. Take the stairs between the north and south wings into a haven of deliciousness.

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