It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
Let's talk about lettuce. The first time I wanted to make lettuce wraps at home, I walked into Whole Foods and just stared at the lettuce section. I was dumbfounded, standing there as other shoppers weaved their way around me. The vegetable sprayers turned on and my eyes still volleyed between labels, from "iceberg" to "Boston" to "romaine." There are so many different types of lettuce—how could I choose one? My friend had recommended iceberg lettuce because of its rigid cup shape, which can be folded to eat like a taco, but I found myself drawn to green leaf lettuce: I envisioned myself using chopsticks to place meat into it, then wrapping it into a little burrito. I grabbed the green leaf and left the store dreaming of the fillings I'd place in it.
More: Intimidated by the lettuce aisle? Skip it altogether this summer.
I’ve seen variations of lettuce wraps pop up everywhere: I’ve tried the chicken lettuce wraps at P.F. Chang’s and a spicy, mouth-numbing beef variation at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant in Boston. I also once stuffed kimchi-rice and bulgogi into lettuce as the last course at a Korean barbecue place. Of course, wrapping meat in a flexible encasing is not a new idea: There’s the ubiquitous Peking duck, in which crispy duck is wrapped in thin pancakes; mu shu pork or chicken, wrapped in a similar pancake; and dumplings (bao and other buns), which one could argue are just variations on that theme.
Let’s just say that I've jumped on the wrap train, too. The refreshing combination of crisp lettuce and the flavorful meat, along with the ease of sharing, have made roast duck lettuce wraps my go-to for dinner parties—the crispy roast duck filling is always well-recieved.
Making roast duck can be intimidating, but it's actually very simple. I found this article extremely helpful with regards to handling duck and dehydrating the skin for extra crispiness; the entire process consists of just an overnight marinade, some time roasting in the oven, and the pleasurable process (at least, I think so) of shredding meat from the bones. From there, you use store-bought hoisin sauce as the tip, and top the duck meat with chopped scallions before wrapping it in your choice of lettuce—whatever your lettuce preference may be.
4 skin-on, bone-in duck legs
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine*
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce, plus more for dipping*
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce*
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
Sea salt, to taste
1 teaspoon five spice powder*
Thinly sliced fresh scallion, for garnish
Green leaf lettuce, washed and separated, for serving
*Many of these ingredients can be found at Asian supermarkets and, once purchased, will keep for a long time, which means you can make several batches of duck lettuce wraps without having to make another trip to the store.
Start by preparing the duck: Rinse it and pat it dry, then place it in a shallow container with enough room to lay all 4 of the duck legs in a single layer and set aside. In a medium bowl, mix together the garlic, ginger, Shaoxing wine, hoisin sauce, honey, and soy sauces to create a marinade. Pour the marinade over the duck legs and rub it into the surface, making sure that it covers the skin completely. Sprinkle the salt and five spice on top, then refrigerate uncovered, overnight, or until the surface is dry and crinkly.
When you're read to roast the duck, preheat your oven to 375º F. Remove the duck from the shallow container, and place it on a foil-lined baking sheet, skin side up. Prick the skin with a fork all over, roughly 10 times per leg, to allow the fat to escape while cooking—this will help to ensure a crispy skin. Roast the duck for 40 minutes, then raise the temperature to 425º F and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the duck from the oven and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Once cool, shred the duck meat from the bone using your hands and a fork (as depicted in the photo below) into a medium-sized serving bowl.
To incorporate the duck drippings for a bit of extra flavor, add 1 teaspoon of warm water to the pan and mix it in with a wooden spoon. Toss the duck meat in the juices and fat from the pan, then place back into the bowl.
Serve the duck with the scallions, hoisin sauce for dipping, and green leaf lettuce to wrap the meat, which I'm happy to say turned out to be delicious.
For those who don't wish to get their hands involved, the shredded duck meat is also delicious over rice (I can't deny that I snuck in a few forkfuls after shredding the meat).
Photos by Betty Liu