Insiders on all sides of the fence e-mailed me over the weekend to say that J. D. Fratzke, longtime chef at Muffuletta—the Parasole group’s heritage restaurant in St. Anthony Park—has been made a managing partner and will also assume chef duties at The Strip Club, the new Tim Niver/Aaron Johnson restaurant on Mound and Maria in St. Paul. Niver and Johnson are the duo behind the smash hit eatery on Lake Street, the Town Talk Diner. Fratzke assumes his new duties in December.
Now on to the recipe at hand . . .
My wife loves lettuce cups and so does our son, and when I was in China last month I was reminded that they are just as popular there. All great food is about contrasts—hot-cold, salt-sweet, crunchy-sweet—and this dish has it all. The first time I ate this dish I was five years old with my Dad at Bobo’s in NYC’s Chinatown, a restaurant that closed about a year ago after a ninety-year run. This is a recipe that I spent years perfecting, trying to get it to the point where it would be indistinguishable from the original I had tasted there. It works.
Minced ‘Dragon and Phoenix’ in Lettuce Cups
2 whipped egg whites
2 T. corn starch
4 T. Chinese rice wine
2 T. soy sauce
1 lb. boneless and skinless chicken thigh, minced fine by hand
1 lb. shrimp, cleaned and finely diced
4 c. peanut oil
2 T. hot chili paste
1 t. sugar
1 T. plus 1 t. Toban Djan . . . Lee Kum Kee brand is best (Toban Djan is
fermented bean paste that is seasoned with chiles and garlic).
1 T. minced ginger
1 T. minced garlic
1 dried hot chile
1/4 c. minced scallion
1/2 c. minced red pepper
1/2 c. minced celery
1/2 c. diced fresh water chestnuts
3 heads Boston lettuce or iceberg lettuce
Place the egg, corn starch, half the rice wine, the chili paste, and half the soy in a large Ziploc bag. Add the meat and let marinate for 12 hours.
Remove meat from marinade. Heat oil in a wok to 375 degrees. Fry the meat until cooked through in batches. Using a spider wand, reserve to a plate. When finished, pour off the oil through a strainer and refrigerate for another use. Do not wipe the wok. There will be oil remaining behind in the pan. This is intended.
Return the wok to high heat. When smoking, add the ginger, sugar, garlic, and the dried chili. Stir fry for a moment and add the vegetables. Stir fry for another moment and add the meats back to the wok. Add the remaining rice wine, Toban Djan, remaining soy sauce and cook, stirring until sauce is reduced to proper consistency.
Serve with the lettuce, allowing the guests to spoon a few morsels of meat mixture into the lettuce leaves at the table. Serves 4–6 people as a small course.