These lettuce wraps with chicken are quick and easy to make. If you’re on a low carb diet, you could cook up a big batch of miso chicken on Sunday night to keep in the fridge. Reheat, wrap with lettuce leaves, and that’s it– Monday’s lunch is ready! 

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Japanese hamburger steak

Asian-style Lettuce Wraps    

In Japan and Korea, people have been eating lettuce wraps long before low carb diets became popular in the West.

My introduction to lettuce wraps must have been at Tonchang, a Korean barbecue restaurant in Shin-Ookubo, Tokyo’s Koreatown. 

Thick strips of fatty pork belly, called samgyeopsal, are grilled right in front of you at your table.

After the long strips are cut into bite-sized pieces with kitchen scissors, you wrap the pork inside a big, fresh leave of lettuce. Add in kimchi, slices of garlic, and maybe some spicy chili miso sauce. Then, using your hands, you can dip it in sesame oil with black pepper. 

I first discovered the Japanese version of wraps at a “secret restaurant” tucked around the corner of a secluded side street in my old neighborhood, Omotesando. I took my girlfriend there on a dinner date specifically to eat the miso pork cabbage wraps with saké. 

If this is all new to you, boy, are you in for a treat… 

Japanese hamburger steak recipe

Miso-Flavored Minced Chicken   

The meat in these lettuce wraps is called nikumiso in Japanese. Typically, pork is more commonly used. I switched to chicken because I’m trying to limit the number of meals I eat with red meat (climate change).

I won’t lie, the original pork version is just as good if not better. I’ll still eat it on occasion.

This is a great recipe to try with leftover ground chicken, pork, or even turkey after Thanksgiving.

It’s what you’ll want the day after Thanksgiving:

a light meal that’s simple to prepare and won’t make a big mess in the kitchen.

Instead of making turkey sandwiches, why not try out some Japanese finger food? 

(You’ll have the recipe perfected in time for watching the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics.)

how to make Japanese hamburger steak, hambagu

The ABCs of Japanese Cooking   

Traditional recipes for nikumiso usually call for a combination of saké, sugar, and/or mirin, which also adds sweetness.

In Japanese, there’s a mnemonic to remember the order of adding seasonings:


Sa is for satou, sugar. Shi for shio, salt. Su is vinegar. Se for shoyu, soy sauce (spelled seuyu in old Japanese). And so is the so in miso. 

In home kitchens and restaurants in Tokyo, sugar or mirin is usually added when making any typical Japanese dish or sauces like teriyaki.

Cuisine in Kyoto is known for lighter, more subtle flavors. They tend to avoid adding sugar. 

In my Tokyo kitchen, I leave out the sugar and mirin for health’s sake, without sacrificing too much taste.

During the work week, I tend not add saké as well, so not to be tempted to drink what’s leftover after the one splash that goes into the fry pan. 

Japanese hamburger steak ingredients

Cooking with Japanese Ingredients    

The first time I tried making this recipe, I added too much miso. While I thought that I was erring on the side of adding too little, I was wrong.

When I tasted the meat, it was already too salty, which meant that I didn’t want to add any soy sauce.

Luckily, I forgot to add soy sauce before the miso: sa-shi-su-se-so

I also wanted to experiment with leaving out the saké to cut out sugar and carbs. Just like cooking with wine, the saké will open up the flavors. I wanted to taste the difference firsthand if I left out the saké.

For a first attempt, it wasn’t bad.