chicken burger

A finished lettuce wrap chicken burger.

Lettuce wrap chicken burgers: not historically glamorous, but easy, healthy, delicious, Instagrammable and just about fool proof whether you’re a college student, a journalist, or anyone considering takeout.

Growing up as a child in the ‘90s exposed us to socioeconomic trends before we had the capacity to understand them, and for my family one of those trends was new-age health and diets.

Bring on the bacon.

We had almost every diet book in the world at our house: the Atkins Diet, South Beach, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers — you name it, we probably picked up a copy at Borders or my mother had a coworker lend it to us after a particularly soul-destroying professional development meeting to use as a coffee-table book.

Low-carb always stuck: it sucked for us as kids because the rules were so strict in those beginning diets, allowing only for lots and lots of bacon and butter and no fruit or fried wasabi peas.

My favorites, gone, out the window, like my dreams.

In any case, one positive that emerged from my childhood’s linoleum-floored kitchen and familial exploration into the world of low-carb recipes were lettuce wraps. Light, crispy, fresh and juicy, lettuce wraps were fun to make (my tactile brain was all for the hands-on ground chicken action) and fun to eat, and it was an easy recipe for my low-carb parents to have after Sweatin’ to the Oldies was over.

I loved that tape. Richard Simmons was my jam and mum was so proud.

Chicken is a perfect almost-neutral vehicle for the flavors you prefer, which makes customizing these burgers a dream and thickens your recipe stash instantaneously. Curry, chilies, sweet teriyaki, simple lemon pepper, or with a cucumber-mint-yogurt sauce for something light and refreshing. The possibilities are endless: I prefer mine with subtle spices, a lemon-dill sauce, and some freshly-sliced tomato.

Thank god the farmers’ markets are opening back up. Give me all of the Cherokee Purple tomatoes.

Lettuce wrap chicken burgers

Mince the onion, red pepper, serrano and parsley together until almost homogenous, and add to the ground chicken in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise and one egg and spices and mix with your hands to combine.

As in my last piece, adding the breadcrumbs is a stabilizer and a thickener to be able to form patties, but beware, too many breadcrumbs can create chicken meatloaf and you don’t want that. Add as much or as little as you need to make the ground mixture form-able. Usually I stop at a half cup, and save a bit for the coating before frying to make those fellas nice and crispy.

I’m all about textures in cooking. With balanced flavors and varied textures, you have a dish that interests you, and keeps you engaged, wondering where the next bite will take you. Unlike my ex — he wasn’t taking me anywhere.

Heat some frying oil in a skillet over medium heat, and flick a bit of water into the pan — it will crackle if it is ready. Take your patties and dip each side into a plate of the panko bread crumbs, pressing them lightly to make sure they stick into the patty. You want a nice even layer of breadcrumbs. In the event that they don’t stick, a simple egg wash will solve that problem. Dip the chicken patty in the egg wash, and then the breadcrumbs in that case.

Place in the skillet and fry gently until golden and slightly crispy on each side, top with lemon sauce, fresh tomato, and serve in a multi-layer butter-lettuce cup with crumbled chevre.

The verdict

This dish goes wonderfully with a bright, crisp, chilled Vinho Verde. It’s a perfect summer dish, and can easily transfer from a skillet to a grill without the breadcrumb topping. Fresh and light, this meal is perfect as lunch or as dinner, and if you’re feeling extra fancy you can top it with a local fried egg for extra indulgence.

Vermont has some of the best produce and products the world has to offer. The standard of flavor, ecologically-centered growing, and quality is almost unmatched. Whether it’s dairy, tomatoes, lettuce or free-range chicken, I have never tasted the quality of food that our state has to offer in any other. When you can, always buy local — for your health and your palate.

What recipe would you like to see next?

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