Chicken Lettuce Cups

Chicken Lettuce Cups

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Ah, lettuce cups – as crunchy and refreshing as a salad but WITH flavor! A brilliant invention. This here is a recipe I’ve been making for years and it’s an adaptation from America’s Test Kitchen. I love everything about it, it’s savory, a little bit spicy, very satisfying and takes little effort to put together. Plus, apart from the vegetables and the chicken breast, it’s made purely with very regular pantry ingredients. You can serve these as an appetizer but they are pretty filling so I find that they make a great main course.

Chicken Lettuce Cups
Recipe type: Appetizer
Serves: 2
For the marinade:
  • 1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon cornstarch
For the sauce:
  • ¼ cup sake
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 5 large shiitake mushrooms, chopped
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • lettuce
  • hoisin sauce (optional)
For the marinade:
  1. Put the chicken cubes in the freezer for about 10 minutes until they start to harden. (This will make it easier to process it).
  2. Meanwhile whisk vinegar, soy sauce, oil and cornstarch together in a bowl. Set aside.
  3. Grind the chicken in the food processor, then mix it into the marinade and put in the fridge for 10 minutes.
For the sauce:
  1. Whisk sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, oil, sesame seeds, cornstarch and pepper flakes together in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Heat a bit of vegetable oil in a pan on high heat.
  3. Fry the chicken in the oil until cooked through. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Add more oil to the pan and fry mushrooms, green onions and celery until they start to soften.
  5. Add the chicken back into the pan, then add the sauce and cook until it thickens and turns translucent.
  6. Fill the lettuce leaves with the chicken mixture.
  7. Serve with hoisin sauce (optional).

Food Photography and Styling: This is an old photo, I took it several years ago and had forgotten about it but when I made this recipe again recently I was reminded of it and thought “Why not post it?” I don’t remember all the details but I do recall that these are actually two lettuce leaves that I stitched together with a toothpick to make it look like a more or less round bowl. The white sake set fit well with the Asian theme and with the white square plate that the cup is sitting on. I used my strobe to light the set from the side.
Nikon D300, 105mm, f/5.6, 1/125 sec., ISO 200. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.


  1. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way says:

    Wonderful shot! My heaven the lettuce looks like you just picked it out of the garden — after you washed it first, of course. The recipe itself sounds wonderful. I love the spices in it and I think it would make a perfect lunch. I’ve also read not to use square plates — I have some and I have used them. I like their looks. I really find it appealing and I think it looks good as a change. Thank you for the recipe and the photo inspiration.

    • Nicole B. says:

      Thank you, Marisa! I agree that square plates can look really good but I also find that they can be tricky to work with. I have very few successful shots that involve square plates but after digging up this photo I actually thought to myself I should use square plates more often. :)

    • Nicole B. says:

      Thank you, Angela! When I do a studio shoot, I start by setting up my props and my lighting. So, I set things up the way I think they look good, take a shot, then adjust props and lighting millimeter by millimeter until I have them the way I like it. I take shots throughout that process and sometimes it takes longer than others but I’d say on average I take probably about 10 to 15 shots during that process. Then I make the food, bring it to the set, take a shot and then fine-tune again, moving the food around, adding flags or reflectors, making small adjustments to the food and taking shots throughout, probably another 10 or 15 until I have my final shot. Depending on the longevity of the food I sometimes try to get 1 or 2 more shots, exchanging props or changing from vertical to horizontal or vice versa. That doesn’t always work out though, I often end a photo shoot with only one final photo.

      • Angela - Patisserie Makes Perfect says:

        Thanks so much for all of the information – it’s really interesting that you set the shot up first without the food.

        I generally plan in my head how I want it to look, or think about the props I would use and then set everything up with the food.

        Thanks for the insight.

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