Roasted Vietnamese Lettuce-Wrap Chicken Recipe

Wintry days and big-game parties can lighten up with a fresh yet flavorful option that goes beyond the typical chili and wings. One of the delights of Vietnamese cooking is the use of copious amounts of salad greens and fresh herbs as an accompaniment to meat or seafood. Often, bits of grilled beef, fish or chicken are wrapped in lettuce leaves, garnished with herbs like cilantro and basil, and immersed in a dipping sauce before being devoured, says cookbook author and meat expert Bruce Aidells, who contributed this recipe to Real Food. The chicken is marinated with lots of lime and cilantro and the marinade is then used to baste the chicken, which is served with rice noodles, lettuce leaves and herbs, allowing diners to make their own wraps, dip and eat. Plan ahead as marinating overnight is recommended. I know it may be tempting to skip steps such as this, but that is the secret to making deliciously flavored dishes. Plus, a make-ahead meal makes entertaining easier!

Roasted Vietnamese Lettuce-Wrap Chicken 

Makes 6 servings

1 4-pound whole chicken, with neck and giblets removed 
12 pound Vietnamese rice vermicelli (dried bun) 

Vietnamese Marinade
1 cup chopped cilantro 
13 cup green onions, finely chopped 
1 tablespoon minced garlic 
12 cup less sodium soy sauce, or regular soy sauce 
2  teaspoons Sriracha sauce (optional)
3  tablespoons fish sauce
13 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar 
2 tablespoons honey 
112 teaspoons black pepper, freshly ground 
12 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder 
3 tablespoons peanut oil 

1. For the marinade: In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

2. Rinse chicken under running water and pat completely dry. Using a sharp knife, cut chicken along backbone just to one side of spine and through ribs. Place cut side down and flatten chicken with heel of your hand. Lay chicken skin side down into a shallow roasting pan, such as a Pyrex pan. 

3. Pour over marinade and flip chicken over a couple times, ultimately leaving it skin side down. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator overnight, turning chicken over several times. 

4. Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove chicken from marinade and pour marinade into a small saucepan. Pat chicken dry and lay flat, skin side up, in a rimmed sheet pan or roasting pan; put in oven. Bring marinade to a boil and cook 1 minute. Baste chicken with marinade every 15 minutes. After 45 minutes, begin checking chicken for doneness by inserting instant-read thermometer into thickest part of thigh. Chicken is done when it reaches 165°F. Remove from oven and let rest 10 to 15 minutes. 

5. As chicken cooks, prepare rice noodles. Cook in boiling water until soft and firm, about 4 to 5 minutes. Rinse, drain and cool.

6. Arrange rice noodles in center of a large platter. Arrange lettuce leaves and herbs around noodles. Cut chicken into 8 to 10 pieces and arrange on top of noodles. Pour over any juices and basting marinade.

7. Have guests take a portion of chicken then remove meat from the bone and place in a lettuce leaf topped with rice noodles, herbs and cucumber. Make into a roll and dip into sauce before each bite. 

Lettuce Wrap Dipping Sauce and Toppings 

Dipping Sauce
23 cup fish sauce 
2 teaspoons minced garlic 
4 tablespoons sugar 
14 cup fresh lime juice 
1  cup warm water
2  tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce (optional) 

Lettuce and Herbs
2 heads red leaf lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
30 cilantro sprigs, washed and dried 
30 basil leaves, washed and dried 
4 green onions, cut into shreds 
30 mint leaves, washed and dried 
12 English cucumber, thinly sliced 

1. For dipping sauce: stir together all ingredients until sugar dissolves. Pour dipping sauce into small, individual bowls. 

Nutrition Info Roasted Vietnamese Lettuce-Wrap Chicken (per serving): Calories 591 (197 from fat); Fat 22g (sat. 6g); Chol 116mg; Sodium 571mg; Carb 55g; Fiber 4g; Protein 42g 

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.