When you hear the phrase “lettuce wrap,” what do you think? If the first thought that springs to mind is a poor low-carb sandwich replacement, you’re not alone. I took an informal poll of my friends and that was the predominant attitude.
I think it’s time to liberate the lettuce wrap from its second-class status and bring it into the mainstream. To my taste buds, there’s something absolutely perfect and appealing about the savory crunch that’s possible with this much-maligned dish.
I like to start with some long-marinated chicken or beef (though crispy tofu works beautifully, too) that’s been grilled or broiled so it’s caramelized around the edges, but still tender. Once you have your starring protein, pick out toppings. Ribbons of carrot, shredded cabbage, slivers of green onion and leggy cilantro leaves are all great. And then there’s the lettuce. If you’re looking for crunch, iceberg is your best bet, though I prefer butter lettuce for its color and flexibility.
Once all of your players are in hand, build. Place a lettuce leaf on your plate and nestle a strip of protein down as the base. Stack on your toppings and then fold, much as you would a burrito. If you have a dipping sauce, a quick dip before the first bite does wonders for wrap unification.
Lettuce wraps are great for parties because everyone can customize to their wants and needs. A stack of leafy leaves, a platter of protein, dishes of toppings and a bowl of steamed rice make for a fun, hands-on way to gather. If you need a more-organized recipe for such things, I recommend Paula Deen’s Flank Steak Lettuce Wraps. Make it your Weekender.
Before you start cooking, read these tips:
— If your local market doesn’t carry flank steak, skirt steak is also a good cut to choose. Just make sure to cook it to medium, as it tends to be tough and hard to chew at lower temperatures.
— If you’re serving gluten-free folks, make sure to use a gluten-free soy sauce in your marinade and dipping sauce.
— Put out plenty of napkins. Lettuce wraps can get messy!
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.