Nothing highlights the fickleness of the human heart like weather in South Carolina. When the heaviness of eternal summer crushes us, we long for fall. Fall finally comes and we’re so enchanted by cool days, we wish for cold winter’s coziness. But give us a few freezing days of winter rain, and we’re done. There are moments to lean into the moment we’re in—but there are also moments to tap out. This, I think, is why people go to Florida.
Spicy shrimp lettuce wraps are just fresh and fiery enough to do the trick for me, although I suppose I won’t turn down a Florida vacay should anyone bequeath one. The only cooked ingredient here is the shrimp—big, meaty ones with shells you pull off with your hands so you can pile the shrimp into lettuce with a few raw, crunchy toppings. The presentation takes me back to summer, too: a wide platter heaped high with fresh ingredients that call for a lot of hands.
Shrimp wraps are a dinner made for sharing, so don’t keep this one to yourself. The work is minimal and the eating is messy: an ideal recipe for laughing with friends. Routine can feel a little restrictive sometimes; maybe that’s why we struggle to feel content where we are. The right meal with people we love can shake it just enough to help us see clearly when things settle back into place. Nothing is forever. Life is made for sharing. And shrimp are always good eating.
SPICY SHRIMP LETTUCE WRAPS //
½ cup hot chile paste
¼ cup honey
¼ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
3 Tbs. sesame oil, divided
2 lbs. large shrimp, tails and shells on
Kosher salt and flaky sea salt
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
4 Persian cucumbers, thinly sliced into circles
2 heads Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
1 cup mint sprigs
¾ cup crushed salted, dry-roasted peanuts
Cooked rice, for serving
1. Stir hot chile paste, honey, vinegar, and 2 Tbs. sesame oil in a small bowl to combine. Season shrimp lightly with kosher salt and place in a bowl. Pour half of the spicy marinade into the bowl and toss shrimp to coat. Transfer the rest of the marinade into a bowl for serving. Allow shrimp to marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes, turning occasionally. (Shrimp cooked in their shells will have deeper flavor, but make for messier eating later. Feel free to remove tails and shells before cooking if you prefer.).
2. Heat 1 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large grill pan or cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Working in batches with more vegetable oil if skillet is dry, add shrimp in a single layer and cook undisturbed for 2 minutes. Turn shrimp over and cook another 30 seconds before transferring to a large platter.
3. Season sliced cucumbers with flaky sea salt and drizzle with remaining tablespoon of sesame oil. Add them to the platter, along with chilled Bibb lettuce leaves and mint sprigs. Set out reserved spicy marinade and crushed peanuts in small bowls for topping each wrap. Steamed rice on the side helps round out the meal if you’re especially hungry.
Photography by Jivan Davé