September 15, 2011

amuse #1: chinese chicken lettuce cups

So in my stint as Student Chef of the PCR, I did the whole logistics/butchery thing, but when the restaurant opened for service I was the communication point between the front of the house (servers, food runners, etc.) and the back of the house (kitchen). I was also in charge of expediting, or otherwise keeping track of orders (in the form of tickets) and getting food out on time. Here was my view:

during service

While that was fun and allowed me to feel self-important, I was itching to get in on some of the food action. When my time was up I was able to choose what station I went into, and I chose to go into amuse. Not only are little bite-sized portions of food cute (to eat, look at, and also make), I was also excited by the fact that every single guest would get a taste of my creation, not to mention all the samples I would be doling out to fellow students. To me this meant that whatever I made had to be good.

For inspiration I thought about appetizers I had eaten and liked, and also thought a bit about something I was culturally familiar with. One of the things that came to mind were Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups, which I had remember eating perhaps first at a PF Changs, but also in legit banquet-style dinners. Usually you would wrap heaping spoonfuls of diced up chicken in a whole lettuce leaf and eat it like some kind of spring roll, but my version would have to be smaller.

cutting lettuce cups

So I used a cookie cutter to make small, perfectly round lettuce cups.

As for the chicken filling, I knew it was supposed to be a mixture of things. But unsure of what to include, I researched a bunch of recipes online and ended up doing what I always do, which is to write down the parts of each recipe/ingredient list that I like. This came out to diced chicken, onions, ginger, shiitake mushrooms and water chesnuts.

The chicken I marinated in a equal parts mixture of soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, and also minced garlic. After that was stir-fried and set aside, I stir-fried the diced vegetables (onions first to soften), then re-added the chicken and flavored with oyster sauce and red pepper flakes and mixed in scallions.

chicken filling

So far both the chicken and lettuce cups were rather soft-textured (since I chose to use butter lettuce for color instead of the usual iceberg), so I thought of crunchy toppings. Cashews came to mind (which I crushed), as did black sesame, but I also wanted the crispy fried noodles I had eaten in restaurants previous - the problem was just that I had no idea what kind of noodles they were and how they were fried. As a last-ditch experiment I grabbed some Chinese vermicelli and dunked them in the deep fryer. They poofed up immediately and were exactly what I wanted (disclaimer: experiments, especially last-ditch ones, almost never work out like this).

finished lettuce cup

So this was the lettuce cup, all assembled and finished with a cilantro leaf for color. The prep time of two hours was just enough for me to turn this out, sans experience, and I think people liked it despite the spice!

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