Food & Drink

Grilled Short Rib Lettuce Wraps

Houston chef Chris Shepherd calls them “Meat Chips” in his new cookbook, Cook Like a Local. You’ll call them your new favorite dinner-party food

photo: Julie Soefer


This recipe is inspired by a fantastic restaurant in Houston called Hu`ynh, which played a special role in my development as an eater and as a cook. By the time I started going to eat there, I’d already converted from being the guy who always asks for the peanut sauce at Vietnamese restaurants to asking for nu’ó’c châm. The next step in my journey was at Hu`ynh, where I finally realized that the previously unidentifiable flavor that made their char-grilled short ribs so damn delicious was the same ingredient I’d started to warm up to as a dipping sauce: fish sauce.

It was a pretty big moment for me as a cook. It was the first time that the possibilities of fish sauce—as an ingredient that you cook with, rather than just a condiment—opened up to me. Suddenly, I was tasting fish sauce in everything: in soups and stews, in marinades, and on sandwiches. It dawned on me that Houston food tastes like fish sauce.

Here, fish sauce shows up in two places: in the marinade for the grilled short ribs and in the form of nu’ó’c châm, for dipping. As a marinade, fish sauce imparts a salty layer of seasoning as well as depth of flavor. I happen to believe that fish sauce goes with any protein, from fish to meat, so don’t be shy about how you use it.

These short ribs make a great interactive dish; pull it out for your next dinner with friends. They might be timid at first when you ask them to build their own lettuce wraps, but they’ll get over it pretty quickly when they realize how fun and delicious the whole process is. I call the ribs meat “chips” because they form these snackable bite-size pieces of meat that I can devour as though they were chips.

Oh, and I should say one more thing: this recipe isn’t exactly the Hu`ynh version. When I asked Cindy Dang, the owner, for the recipe, she said, “Only if you marry my sister.”—Chris Shepherd


Reprinted with permission from Cook Like a Local by Chris Shepherd & Kaitlyn Goalen, copyright © 2019. Photographs by Julie Soefer. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc.


Ingredients

  • For the "meat chips" (Serves 8 to 10)

    • 2 bunches cilantro

    • 2 bunches scallions (about 12), trimmed

    • 3 shallots

    • 8 garlic cloves

    • 2 jalapeños

    • 1 lemongrass stalk, pale core only (see Note)

    • 1 cup fish sauce

    • 1 cup honey

    • 5 pounds (⅜-inch-thick) crosscut beef short ribs (aka LA cut, kalbi, flanken, or taqueria cut)

    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • For the LETTUCE WRAPS

    • 1 bunch red leaf lettuce, divided into leaves

    • 12 ounces rice noodles, cooked according to the package directions, rinsed, and cooled

    • 2 cups quick-pickled bean sprouts (recipe below)

    • 1 cup julienned carrot and daikon

    • 1 cup sliced scallions

    • Fresh mint leaves

    • Cilantro sprigs

    • 1 cup Nu´ó´c Châm, for dipping

  • For the UB PRESERV PICKLES (Makes 1 pound pickles plus 2¼ cups brine)

    • 2 cups bean sprouts

    • 3 tablespoons sugar

    • 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon kosher salt

    • ¾ cup hot water

    • 1½ cups rice vinegar


Preparation

  1. For the “meat chips”: Combine the cilantro, scallions, shallots, garlic, jalapeños, lemongrass, fish sauce, and honey in a blender and blend to a smooth puree.

  2. Divide the short ribs between two large resealable plastic bags and pour half of the marinade into each bag. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or, ideally, overnight.

  3. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Remove the short ribs from the marinade, letting most of the excess drip off. Season the short ribs lightly with salt (they already have a good level of seasoning thanks to the fish sauce bath) and pepper and grill for 3 to 5 minutes, until a nice sear has formed on the bottom. Flip the short ribs and continue grilling for 3 to 5 minutes more, until a nice sear has formed on the other side.

  4. Transfer the short ribs to a cutting board and cut out the rib bones. Then cut the meat into 1-inch pieces.

  5. Serve the meat on a platter alongside bowls of the lettuce wrap ingredients and encourage your guests to build individual meat “chip” lettuce wraps. Dunk the wraps generously in nu´ó´c châm and enjoy.

  6. Note: Lemongrass comes in stalks that are shaped a bit like scallions. To prepare lemongrass, cut off the root end and remove the first few dry outer layers until you reach the tender center of the stalk. Mince the paler-colored part (usually the bottom 4 inches or so) that is tender and fragrant, stopping when it becomes woody and brittle.

  7. For the UB Preserv pickles: Pack your produce of choice into a quart-size mason jar or other nonreactive lidded container.

  8. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, salt, hot water, and vinegar and whisk until the sugar dissolves completely. Pour the brine over the bean sprouts and let it sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use—the pickles will keep for 2 to 3 weeks. For shelf-stable pickles, follow the processing instructions you find on your mason jar packaging.


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