Jennifer Lover shares Charlotte restaurant recipes requested by our readers.
Barbara Guller has sampled many versions of chicken lettuce wraps in the area, but her favorites are at Wan Fu. The award-winning restaurant has been open since 1989, with the same head chef at the helm since 2002.
Edward Pereira has been the manager for almost 10 years, and he was instrumental in helping us to obtain the recipe. At least the ingredients: Pereira said when he asked chef Chan Tran for the quantities, “He just kind of smiled and shrugged. He honestly does not measure. At least he does not measure consciously.”
I knew it was going to be quite a challenge to uncover their secret, so I enlisted the help of my dear friend and neighbor, chef Betty Lee. We both tried the wraps and then set to work determining a good ratio for the building blocks Chan provided. Barbara, I think we came pretty close.
Edward cautioned that it is difficult to replicate any of their recipes at home because of the equipment they use. It does help to use a wok, but you can use a flat-bottom sauté pan as well. There are also a few steps that will help make the process easier.
It’s important to have all of the ingredients cut into small, uniform pieces so they cook quickly and evenly and the vegetables stay crisp. Since this method of cooking is speedy, make sure everything is prepped and at hand before you start. Dicing slippery chicken breasts can prove difficult, but popping them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes will firm them up and make them easier to cut.
Lee suggests marinating the diced chicken to keep it tender and flavorful. She whisks together 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine (or dry sherry), and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a bowl and then tosses it with the chicken to marinate for about 15-30 minutes. Alternatively, she uses ground chicken to save time.
Wan Fu uses iceberg lettuce for their wraps, but feel free to substitute bibb or butter lettuce. You can use any lettuce with broad, substantial leaves that are sturdy enough to hold the filling. Choose heads that are fresh and green without signs of wilting.
Are you looking for a recipe from a Charlotte-area restaurant? Send your request to Jennifer Lover, email@example.com or on Instagram (@jenniferlover). Please include your name, why you like the recipe, the area where you live and the restaurant’s location. Lover is a creative director, stylist and cook who lives in Charlotte.
Wan Fu Quality Chinese Cuisine
10719 Kettering Drive, 704-541-1688.
Wan Fu’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps
2 tablespoons ground bean sauce (found at Asian markets)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons peanut oil for frying, divided
2 cloves minced garlic
1 pound boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about I cup)
4 celery stalks, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup baked bean curd (tofu), cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 (8-ounce) can water chestnuts, drained and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small bunch green onions, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 (4-ounce) package bean thread noodles, fried (see note)
1 head lettuce (iceberg, bibb, or butter)
Combine the ground bean sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, and soy sauce in a small bowl and whisk with a fork until sugar dissolves. Set aside.
Preheat a wok or large skillet over high heat, then add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and quickly stir for about 10 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes longer until cooked through. Transfer chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon.
Add the remaining tablespoon of peanut oil to the skillet. When hot, stir in the bell pepper, celery and bean curd and cook for about 1 minute. Add water chestnuts and green onion and stir-fry 1 minute. Add the sauce and chicken (include any accumulated juices) and cook until heated through, about 30 seconds.
Serve the fried noodles on a platter topped with the chicken mixture. Separate the lettuce leaves and place on a second platter or plate. Wrap the stir fry in lettuce leaves and top with plum, soy or chili sauce (optional).
Note: To fry the bean thread noodles, heat about 3/4 to 1 inch of peanut oil in a wok or large saucepan until a deep-fry thermometer registers 380 degrees. Working in batches, place a handful of noodles into the oil until they puff, about 3-5 seconds. Quickly flip and puff the other side. Drain on paper towels.
Yield: 4 servings.