Photo by Kate Andersen
When I was attempting to get better at cooking by trying recipes out over the summer, one of the things I wanted to find was a good shrimp recipe. I like shrimp just fine, but I've never loved it. I do really like lettuce wraps and spicy things though, so when I came across Bobby Flay's Grilled Shrimp in Lettuce Leaves with Serrano-Mint Sauce, I was hoping for a new favorite way to eat shrimp (my previous having been cold with marinara sauce).
When my housemates and I started lamenting over how quickly the lettuce we bought always turned sticky and brown, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try Flay's recipe. I'd never actually cooked with shrimp before, so it seemed like it'd be all in good fun and a learning experience. When we got back from the grocery store I got right into it. Carrots came first, since they were going to take the longest. Incredibly easy--I rinsed and peeled the carrots, sliced them up, drizzled some olive oil and salt and pepper over them, and put them in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (ours runs a little hot, so it was more like 15 for me--basically until they start browning at the edges and turn soft, but not mushy).
The lettuce made for a crisp counterpart to the sticky rice and warm shrimp, but the sauce really made it.
Once the carrots were roasting away, I got started rinsing and peeling the shrimp. Although we got the pound that the recipe calls for, I would actually get more if I made the recipe again--as it was, each of us only got around 3 to 4 shrimp; nobody was left starving, but a few more wraps would have done us good.
After tossing the shrimp in a bowl with the canola oil and salt and pepper, I left the actual cooking of them to one of my housemates (learning through osmosis?). The original recipe grills them, but without either a grill or grill pan, we cooked them in a regular old sauté pan and they turned out just fine. While she was doing that, I got to work on the Serrano-mint sauce. I was a little dubious. We'd bought a cheap blender that we so far had only used in an attempt to make frozen margaritas. Into the "blender" went the mint, the chopped up chilies (replaced with jalapeños here), garlic, and ginger, along with the sugar and a little lemon juice as a replacement for the white wine vinegar (I also had to leave out the fish sauce, which I'm sure would have developed the flavor even further). After a few tense moments of little-to-no movement, I decided to put in a tiny bit of olive oil to grease up the works, and voila--definitely not as smooth as the picture on Food Network's Web site, but passably saucy.
Carrots were out, shrimp was cooked, sauce and condiments were prepped, and we'd also cooked some rice (somehow we've gone through an untold amount of Japanese rice, despite the fact that I rarely eat any at home) to go into the lettuce wraps. The actual construction was iffy. The lettuce didn't hold together very well, and the sauce dripped and ran, but once you got it in your mouth it was delicious. My housemate had cooked the shrimp perfectly, the rice did a good job of making up for the lack of shrimp-per-person, and helped to glue everything together. The lettuce made for a crisp counterpart to the sticky rice and warm shrimp, but the sauce really made it. It was spicy and tart and refreshing, and a wonderful depth of flavor, despite the changes to some of the ingredients and the absence of the fish sauce. The carrots provided a really great, slightly sweet and comforting complement to the more "exciting" lettuce wraps. Future changes might include more shrimp, and maybe turning it into a salad for easier eating. Overall, though, it was a very easy meal that took barely half an hour to make and didn't require much cleanup--and, most importantly, it was absolutely delicious.