Sticky Caramelized Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

(Recipe excerpted from The Pepper Thai Cookbook.) The sticky part of this party recipe name comes courtesy of Vietnamese fish sauce caramel, made by cooking down the umami-packed liquid with brown sugar to form a syrupy glaze.

Sticky Caramelized Shrimp Lettuce Wraps
Photo: Jenny Huang
Total Time:
50 mins
3 cups shrimp mixture


  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

  • ¼ cup cider vinegar

  • ½ cup julienned carrot (1 medium)

  • 4 medium red radishes, julienned

  • 6 cloves garlic, minced

  • ½ teaspoon Roasted Chile Powder (see recipe), ground Thai chile peppers, or crushed red pepper

  • 1 pound peeled and deveined large shrimp (21- to 25-count)

  • ¼ cup packed light brown sugar

  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, lemon juice, or white vinegar

  • 3 tablespoon fish sauce

  • 2 teaspoon light soy sauce

  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

  • ¼ cup unsalted roasted peanuts, chopped

  • 12 Bibb or Boston lettuce leaves

  • ¾ cup peeled and julienned English cucumber, cut into 2-inch pieces

  • Fresh cilantro leaves

  • Hot cooked jasmine rice (optional)


  1. For pickled vegetables: In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 cup hot water, the granulated sugar, and a pinch of kosher salt; stir until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the vinegar. Add the carrot and radishes; toss to combine. Chill at least 20 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, in a wok or large skillet heat 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil over medium-high until shimmering. Add the garlic and Roasted Chile Powder; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shrimp in an even layer and season with a pinch of salt. Cook, turning once, until the shrimp are lightly browned but still slightly translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the shrimp to a plate and wipe out the wok with a paper towel.

  3. Place a measuring cup with 1/4 cup water next to your cooktop. Set the wok over medium and add brown sugar, lime juice (this helps keep the sugar from crystallizing), and 2 Tbsp. of the water. Cook, stirring often, until the sugar turns an amber-color caramel, 6 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat, then stir in the fish sauce, soy sauce, and remaining 2 Tbsp. water. Return to heat, stir to dissolve caramel and cook until smooth and sticky (about as thick as honey), about 30 seconds. Add the cooked shrimp,* 1/4 tsp. ground black pepper, the scallions, and peanuts; toss to coat. Continue cooking until shrimp are cooked through and evenly coated, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat; let shrimp cool before transferring them and the sauce to a bowl.

  4. Remove the pickled vegetables from the fridge and arrange the lettuce leaves, cucumber, and cilantro on a serving platter. To assemble, spoon some of the shrimp and rice (if using) into a lettuce leaf and top with a few pickled vegetables, cucumber, and a sprig of cilantro; roll up. Serves 4.


To avoid thinning the sauce, drain off any liquid before returning the shrimp to wok.

Pepper's Roasted Chile Powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread 2 cups dried red chiles (such as Thai chiles, arbol peppers, or japones chiles) evenly across a sheet pan and roast about 6 minutes, watching closely to make sure they don't burn. The chiles are done when they change color from red to a very dark reddish brown. Transfer chiles to a plate and let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Place them in a mortar and grind with the pestle until they're the size of red pepper flakes. (Or use a spice grinder or small blender on high 10 to 15 seconds; make sure the blender is totally dry.) Store the chile powder in an airtight container at room temperature for 3 months or up to 1 year in the freezer. Makes 3/4 to 1 cup.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

252 Calories
9g Fat
23g Carbs
20g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 4
Calories 252
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 9g 12%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Cholesterol 143mg 48%
Sodium 1884mg 82%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Total Sugars 17g
Protein 20g
Vitamin C 6.8mg 34%
Calcium 119mg 9%
Iron 1.3mg 7%
Potassium 544mg 12%
Folate, total 70.4mcg
Vitamin B-12 1.3mcg
Vitamin B-6 0.4mg

*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

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