Pulled chicken is one of my go-to dishes for a crowd.
It is economical, tender, versatile, popular among kids and adults alike, and requires minimal effort. It also can be done ahead of time and freezes well.
Having recently served both the traditional barbecue version and Mexican pulled chicken, I was ready for some variety. I also wanted to lighten it up a bit; the chunky rolls associated with the Southern sandwiches tend to make me chunky, and the Mexican version with the tortillas, cheese, guacamole, chips, well, you see my dilemma. Lettuce wraps and Asian spices beckoned me, and I heeded their call.
Hoisin sauce has a distinct sweetness to it, so it generally appeals to kids. If you want to kick this dish up a notch, you can add chili oil, crushed red pepper or any other spice that tempts you.
I served this with zucchini slaw. Zucchini is coming into season now, so it is fresh and local, not to mention relatively inexpensive. The slaw can be piled on top of the chicken wrap or served as a side dish. It keeps for several days, so feel free to double it and have it do a second shift alongside grilled meat or fish, or as a sandwich topping.
A note on the chicken: I have friends who claim that braised boneless chicken is a sacrilege — that the bones and skin are where the flavor lies. They have a point, I’ll warrant, but wrestling with skin and bones to pull the meat kind of defeats the purpose of this low-maintenance dish. If you wish to use bone-in chicken, increase the weight to about eight pounds. You can also substitute water for the chicken stock since the skin and bones will provide plenty of chicken flavor. Be sure to remove all bones and skin when you pull the meat.
As far as dessert goes, this meal is all about simple. Stick with the Asian profile and serve ginger snaps and mango sorbet. Or offer sliced watermelon sprinkled with lime juice and Chinese five-spice powder. Cool, summery and delicious.
Hoisin Chicken Lettuce Wraps
5 pounds boneless chicken
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2-inch piece ginger, grated
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha (more/less depending on your desire for heat)
Place the chicken in an ovenproof pot with a lid. Cover the chicken with the remaining ingredients.
Place the pot into a 275 degree oven for three hours, or longer. Baste and turn the meat over once or twice during cooking. The meat is done when it is easily pulled apart with forks.
Serve with thoroughly washed and dried strong, large lettuce leaves and cooked sticky rice. Fill the lettuce leaves like a taco. Romaine, red leaf or green leaf work well. Avoid butter lettuce and bibb varieties as they tend to be smaller and rather delicate.
Sticky rice, also known as glutinous rice, is a short-grain rice indigenous to Southeast Asia. It tends to clump together and, for that reason, works well with the lettuce wraps since it is less likely to fall out and fall apart. If you are unable to find sticky rice, any rice will do. It just might be a bit messier.
This is best made several hours ahead to allow the flavors to meld. It can be served at room temperature or chilled.
6 cups shredded zucchini (use a Veggetti, Cuisinart or box grater)
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup grated carrots
Juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons canola oil (or other mild-flavored oil such as grapeseed or vegetable)
Place the zucchini in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes.
Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. PJC
Keri White writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication of the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.