Chinese New Year is this weekend and I’m new year prep mode. Unlike its January 1st counterpart, which is basically about a countdown followed by new years resolutions, Chinese New Year feels so much more celebratory. Typically, the weeks leading up to the new year involves cleaning and de-cluttering, so you can start the new year fresh. By throwing out the trash or the bad luck, you make room for good luck to enter your life.
Every year, my grandma treats the whole family to dinner at a Chinese restaurant (at last count, that would be about 25 to 30 of us that live in town, including her kids, grandkids, and great grandkids). It’s the one time of year that all the amazing cooks in my family don’t actually have to cook (and mess up the kitchen) and can relax and enjoy the festivities instead.
After dinner, we all go to my parents house where the little ones get red envelopes with lucky money and then we start gambling. I have fond memories of all of us squishing around the table to play blackjack, which is the first card game we all learned to play. My dad is usually the dealer, with his ‘family house rules’ and we have a great time heckling him. And yes the eating continues here too. Usually fried shrimp chips, coffee, and clementines. Savoury, caffeinated, and sweet.
For this recipe, the five-spice powder gives the chicken a distinctly Asian flavour and isn’t actually hot spicy, more earthy and aromatic. The heat factor comes from the Thai bird chilis in the marinade and the toppings. Be careful, sometimes those little guys can be brutally spicy. I always de-seed before adding to the marinade to give it some kick, without being too overpowering.
My nephew is totally the Golden Child in his Chinese New Year outfit. Look at those delicious cheeks!
My niece and my dog Pucci dressed up for Chinese New Year in 2012. Cuteness overload.
Honestly, this batch of chilis was so spicy, we picked them off the wraps after the photos were taken because they were melting our faces off (the ones in the marinade were perfect). But if you like heat, go for it. You can always leave them on the side and let your guests garnish as they please.
This recipe for lettuce wraps is a hybrid of many different food loves: chili chicken, Peking duck (the second course), and Vietnamese cool rolls. Over the holidays, I watched Jamie Oliver create something similar on TV, though he start plopping on raw tofu and lost me, but I loved his Asian fusion approach. This would be a great meal to put out for a crowd and it’s fun and festive to eat no matter what time of year. An Asian taco of sorts. And like all tacos, make sure to have lots of napkins on hand.
Wishing everyone a New Year full of happiness, health, prosperity and lots of good luck.
PS – I used a julienne peeler to get those pretty shreds of carrot.
Five-Spice Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- 6 boneless skinless chicken thighs (trimmed of fat and cut into 1" pieces)
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1 Tbsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp five-spice powder
- 1 to 2 Thai bird chilis (de-seeded and finely minced)
- 2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro/coriander
- 3/4 tsp salt
- canola oil for frying
Lettuce Wraps and Garnishes
- 2 heads of iceberg lettuce
- 2 stalks green onion (finely sliced)
- 1 medium carrot (julienned)
- 1/4 cucumber (cut into matchsticks)
- Handful fresh cilantro/coriander leaves
- 2 cups cooked rice noodles (cooked according to package instructions)
- Gluten-free hoisin sauce
- Sesame seeds (optional)
- 2 to 3 Thai bird chilis (finely sliced (optional))
- In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients for chicken except canola oil and stir to combine. Cover and marinate in fridge for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.
- Prepare lettuce wraps. Carefully peel away leaves of lettuce from the head, trying not to tear the leaves, and trim excess ends with kitchen shears. Wash and dry lettuce leaves, and place on platter.
- In large non-stick frying pan over medium high heat, add one tablespoon canola oil. Add half of the chicken to pan and let cook for 2 minutes or until browned. Flip chicken over and cook other side for another 2 minutes or until cooked through and no longer pink inside. Remove chicken and place on paper towel lined plate. Wipe any brown bits from pan with a clean paper towel and add pan back to heat. Add one tablespoon canola oil and cook remaining chicken.
- Assemble wraps. Place about 1 to 2 ounces of rice noodles inside each lettuce wrap, followed by carrots, cucumber, and chicken. Add remaining garnishes and serve.