Today I'd like to present an argument in favor of lettuce wraps. Sure, they have a reputation for being a vehicle for ho-hum, low-carb and bland diet food, but there's no reason they need to stay in such a category. Once filled with rich and spicy short ribs, soft and sticky white rice, and potent kimchi as they are in Michael Romano and Karen Stabiner's Family Table, the humble Bibb lettuce leaf transforms into the best sort of wrap. They're strong enough to contain the filling, yet supple and mild enough to not overpower their contents. It's the best excuse to eat with your hands. These particular short rib wraps are super easy to throw together: blend up a potent marinade and let the boneless rib meat drink up its flavor for a couple of hours (or more if need be), heat a heavy pan, and sear away. Condiments, like store-bought kimchi and thinly sliced carrots and daikon, are equally simple. The only extra cooking you'll need to do is steam a pot of rice.
Why I picked this recipe: Short ribs are one of my favorite cuts of beef; and this dish, which doesn't require a long simmer or braise, was the perfect meal to whip up now that the days have grown warmer.
What worked: This spicy, salty marinade was the perfect foil to the rich short rib meat. And the cooking method couldn't be easier--just be sure to get your pan ripping hot before searing the ribs.
What didn't: It's hard to slice the beef thinly straight out of the package. Either ask your butcher to slice the ribs for you, or stick them in the freezer for 15 minutes or so to firm it up.
Suggested tweaks: This recipe would also work with well-marbled cuts of pork or boneless chicken thighs. If you're not into spice, you can dial back or cut out the Korean chili powder. I didn't try freezing the marinated meat as suggested but it's an intriguing idea (instant short ribs!).
Excerpted from Famly Table: Favorite Staff Meals from Our Restaurants to Your Home, copyright 2013 by USHG, LLC, and Karen Stabiner. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Yield:serves 4 to 6
- Active time: 30 minutes
- Total time:2 to 24 hours
- 2 tablespoons Korean chili powder or red pepper flakes
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar, or more to taste
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
- 5 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 bunch scallions, sliced
- 2 1/2 pounds boneless beef short ribs
- 12–18 Bibb lettuce leaves
- About 1/2 cup Chinese black bean paste (optional)
- Cooked white rice
- Thinly sliced peeled carrots
- Thinly sliced peeled daikon radish
- Store-bought kimchi or sliced sour pickles
To make the marinade: Combine all the ingredients except the scallions in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the scallions. Adjust the sugar and/or soy sauce to taste if necessary.
Slice the short ribs across the grain into thin strips, about 1/3 inch thick. Stir the beef into the marinade and mix well. (The beef can be refrigerated, tightly covered, for at least 2 hours, or up to 24 hours, or frozen for up to 1 month.)
Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. In a large nonstick skillet, sear the meat, in batches, over high heat, 1 to 2 minutes on each side until browned and medium-rare.
To assemble the wraps: Spread each lettuce leaf with a small amount of bean paste, if using. Fill with some rice, vegetables, kimchi, and beef, fold into a package, arrange on a platter, and serve.