The Cantonese word for lettuce (生菜, san1 choi3) sounds like rising fortune. Lettuce wraps are an auspicious dish to serve on the New Year. These wraps can be filled with anything you would like to put in them. Lamb is an auspicious dish for my family—it is kind of a Lueck thing. I plan to fill my lettuce wraps with Mongolian lamb.
When I started to research Mongolian sauce recipes I was deeply disappointed. Mongolian sauce is not Mongolian. As I looked at the various recipes I could not see how it differed from a standard Chinese sauce. Finally, I found my answer on Wikipedia.
Mongolian beef is simply a marketing ploy by Chinese-American restaurants to sell a typical Chinese brown sauce as an “exotic” dish to the gwai lo (鬼佬; ghost guy). “Mongolian beef” sounds so much more inviting in English, than “beef in brown sauce.” Those who could read the original Chinese characters would not be fooled by the menu translation,
All of this is beside the point, as it is still a tasty sauce that can be used in a wide variety of dishes. While beef is the most common dish, it can be used on lamb, pork, chicken, tofu and just plain stir-fried vegetables. The base of a Chinese brown sauce is hoisin sauce. I made a keto version of this sauce, by leaving out the sugar.
To the base sauce, you may add your own flourishes. To make it “Mongolian” people seem to adding extra: chili, 5-spice powder, garlic, or sugar. The P.F. Chang copy-cat recipes seem to be the exception to this, in that theirs seems to be based on a Japanese teriyaki sauce.
One problem I have run into in the past with this type of dish is tough chewy meat. I have tried slicing the meat as thinly as I can, but the meat still came out tough. Many of the recipes suggested using baking soda as a meat tenderizer.
You either put in a tiny pinch of soda into the marinade—too much will give you an “off” taste. Or you can soak the meat for half an hour in 1 tablespoon of baking soda and water and then rinse off the baking soda. In either case if you leave the meat in the soda too long you will end up with “mushy” meat.
A few weeks ago I was using a pork recipe that called for pounding the meat. This produced a very tender pork cutlet. I decided to try the same technique on my lamb for this dish.
After Dinner Note: This dish worked just the way I had hoped it would. The lamb was tender, but with still a good “chew.” The sauce was savory and sweet. It could have been a bit spicier. I will probably double the chili garlic sauce next time.
Karl’s Mongolian Lamb Lettuce Wraps
1 lb. leg of lamb slices
1 clove garlic
2 Tbs. soy sauce
¼ tsp. sugar
3 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1 tsp. ginger, grated
1 Tbs. chili garlic sauce
1 Tbs. shaoxing rice wine
2 dried red chili, sliced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp. corn starch, dissolved in 1 Tbs. of water
20+ Boston lettuce cups
2 Tbs. peanut oil
6 green onions, sliced on the bias
1. Put the lamb in the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.
Tip: you want the meat to be partially frozen, to make it easier to slice, but you do not want it to be frozen solid.
Note: I am using lamb leg slices because that is what is currently available in my local markets.
2. Slice the meat on the bias and across the grain into ½ inch slices.
3. Put the meat slices in a plastic bag and pound them to about 3/16 to ¼ inch thick.
Tip: You can use a folded over sheet plastic wrap instead of a bag. I use a broad automotive rubber mallet to beat the slices, but a rolling pin or heavy jar will do. If you use a kitchen mallet, you do not want the kind with “teeth.”
4. Cut the flattened slices of lamb into bite sized pieces and place them in the plastic bag.
Tip: Check to make sure that you have not pounded and holes in the bag.
5. Crush the clove of garlic to a fine paste and mix it with the soy sauce and sugar.
6. When the sugar is completely dissolved, add the marinade to the meat and mix it thoroughly.
7. Refrigerate the meat for at least 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
Tip: It is better if you marinate the meat over night, but do not do this is you have added any baking soda as a meat tenderizer or you will have a meat bits by morning.
8. Remove the meat from the refrigerator an hour before starting to cook.
Tip: You want your meat to be at room temperature before starting to fry it. If the meat has hot soaked up all of the marinade, you may want to pat it dry with some paper towels. You want the meat to sear, not stew in the liquid marinade.
9. Mix the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, ginger, chili garlic sauce, and shaoxing in a cup, to have at the ready.
10. Wash and dry the Boston lettuce and separate it into “wraps.”
Tip: You want roughly a 4-6 inch leaf to hold the meat. You want them large enough that it is easy to fold the lettuce into a pocket. Cut the large leaves in half along the rib and leave any smaller leaves whole.
11. Put the peanut oil in a large sauté pan and heat on high until the oil is shimmering.
12. Spread the meat out over the pan and fry it, without stirring, for 2 minutes. Turn the meat and fry on the other side, without stirring, for one to two minutes more, until no pink is remaining. Remove the meat to a bowl.
Tip: It is important not to crowd the pan, it may be necessary to cook the meat in too batches.
13. Add the chili slices and garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, about one minute.
Tip: Remove the seeds from the chilies, if you do not like it too spicy
14. Add the sauces in the cup to the pan and the cornstarch slurry. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 30 seconds.
15. Return the meat to the pan and add the most of the green onions. Reserve a few green onions for garnish. Toss to coat the meat and warm the green onions, one to two minutes.
Tip: You want to barely cook the green onions.
Note: I am planning to use only the green parts of the onions. I am saving the white parts for my steamed fish.
16. Put the Mongolian lamb in a serving bowl, garnish with the remaining green onions and serve with the lettuce wraps on the side.