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Cecilia’s Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups

MatthewMatthew Sullivan

Cecilia Chang, who owned the pioneering Mandarin restaurant in Ghirardelli Square for thirty years, invented this recipe for Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups served at Betelnut, a restaurant that specialized in food from all over Asia including Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore. It’s a take off on the minced squab that was the signature of her other restaurant. For Betelnut, which was designed to look like a sexy back-alley speakeasy in Shanghai, she wanted to use less expensive ingredients so she replaced the squab with chicken. The dark meat in particular has a similar flavor and texture. It’s a wonderful blend featuring minced chicken, crunchy water chestnuts, black mushrooms, Chinese sausage, and toasted pine nuts. She seasons the mixture with ginger, soy sauce, and oyster sauce and serves the warm stir-fry in crisp, cold iceberg lettuce cups. If you really want to splurge, replace one-fifth of the chicken with squab. I particularly like to add a little dollop of plum sauce to the lettuce leaf before adding the hot chicken mixture. To eat, just pick up the lettuce leaf and eat as you would a taco. The combination of the hot, fragrant chicken and the crisp, cold lettuce is a true culinary delight.


  • 1 head iceberg lettuce
  • 1/4 cup dried black mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, finely minced
  • 1 table spoon light soy sauce
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 table spoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 1/2 cup finely minced water chestnuts
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced Chinese sausage (see Note)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • Pinch of ground white pepper
  • Asian sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
  • Plum Sauce
Cecilia’s Minced Chicken in Lettuce Cups photo


  • 1

    - Remove the core from the lettuce and gently separate the leaves. Use a knife or scissors to cut the leaves into the desired cup shape. Refrigerate.

  • 2

    - Place the mushrooms in a small bowl. Add enough hot water to cover. Soak until soft, about 1 hour. Drain, reserving the mushroom liquid. Discard the stems of the mushrooms: finely chop the caps.

  • 3

    - In a large bowl, combine the chicken, soy sauce, egg white, and cornstarch.

  • 4

    - In a wok or skillet over high heat, heat the vegetable oil. Add the chicken mixture and ginger and cook until the chicken loses its translucency, about 3 minutes. Add the rehydrated mushrooms, water chestnuts, and sausage. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the oyster sauce, scallions, and white pepper. If the mixture seems too dry, add enough of the reserved mushroom liquid to moisten. Remove from the heat. Drizzle with sesame oil to taste. Spoon the mixture onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve with the chilled lettuce cups and plum sauce.


Note: Chinese sausage is available at Asian markets. SECRETS OF SUCCESS: The egg white. Adding egg white to the chicken before frying in a hot wok gives the moist, velvety coating so admired in Chinese cooking.



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