Rice paper-wrapped shrimp spring rolls may seem a little healthy for a Big Game party, but they’re the perfect foil for more typical snacks like wings and pizza. Image source: Flickr CC user Warren Layton
I went to a Big Game party one time in college where I made baked chicken tenders crusted with ground pita chips. I found the recipe in Real Simple, and I was feeling my gingham apron strings tied in a perfect bow. Sadly, they were mediocre at best, and the highlight was the store-bought BBQ sauce I bought to dunk them in.
What stands out to me about that day, looking back, is that I don’t really remember who was even playing in the Big Game that year, but I do remember the food I brought to the party. At least for me, Big Game parties are more about the food and commercials than the actual teams playing. And since every year a different city hosts the big game, lately I’ve been drawn to the challenge of finding inspiration in the Big Game’s location. This year it’s in Houston, a city that has grown recently in culinary credibility and has a wonderful mix of heritages and influences. So ditch the Velveeta and make some fish tacos with fresh cod or sea bass and some Vietnamese-inspired shrimp spring rolls to sustain you through all those commercials--oh right, and the football.
Houston’s Changing Demographic
Due to the proximity of Texas to neighboring Mexico and an influx of refugee settlement from various parts of the world, Houston has fashioned itself into a hub of culture and food. The city’s population is rapidly growing along with its economic success and cultural diversity. Two main cuisines that stand out in Houston are Vietnamese and the hybrid Tex Mex. Those of Vietnamese descent started arriving in Houston after the fall of South Vietnam in 1975 while the fast growing economy has drawn many immigrants from neighboring Mexico. Why not honor this diversity with two appetizers that stray from the normal chips and salsa?
Mexican Tacos Meet Southern BBQ
To honor the convergence of Mexican and southern traditions, my idea takes the Baja invention of fish tacos and adds BBQ sauce and spicy mayo slaw. Classic fish tacos are usually fried and adorned with shredded cabbage, crema, radish, and a squeeze of lime, but in this take they are pan fried and smothered in BBQ sauce with the slaw acting as cabbage, crema, and lime all at the same time. Depending on how hungry your friends are and how big the tortillas are, I’d average about two per person. If you can, salt the cabbage the day before and let it sit to extract excess water and concentrate the flavor.
BBQ Fish Tacos
Heat three or four tablespoons of oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Lightly dredge fillets in seasoned flour and cook, turning once until brown on both sides and cooked through. Set aside on a paper towel to drain off excess oil. Use the same pan you cooked the fish in to heat up the BBQ sauce. Once sauce is hot, return fillets to pan and coat with sauce, set aside.
Season shredded cabbage with salt the night before, or a few hours before preparing coleslaw. Combine all ingredients except lime juice and hot sauce in a bowl. Adjust seasoning to your preference of acidity and spiciness. Add more mayo or sour cream if you like as well.
Warm up tortillas directly on your gas burner if you have one or in a non stick pan. Scoop some slaw into tortillas and top with a piece or two of fish (cut each fillet into four pieces) and a little bit of BBQ sauce from the pan. Serves about six as an appetizer.
Looking to Vietnam for FInger-Food Inspiration
Vietnamese-style spring rolls are nothing like the crispy egg rolls you’ve gotten with your Chinese food delivery. These are wrapped in rice paper, and they are light, refreshing, and all about the vegetables. They do require a little bit of prep time up front to cut up all the vegetables, but in my opinion they are well worth it in the end.
Rice paper wrappers for the rolls are available at most grocery stores and asian specialty stores, or online. And don’t be intimidated by filling and sealing the rolls. There are many good instructional videos online on how to roll the wrappers, but I find the best principle is to not over stuff them and to keep them tight. Serve the spring rolls with dipping sauces of your choice; I like Thai sweet chili sauce and hoisin sauce, both available premade in bottles at most grocery stores and asian specialty stores. You can make your own peanut sauce, too, if you’re feeling ambitious. I’d allot two whole rolls per person.
Shrimp Spring Rolls
Dip rice paper sheets into cold water to soften them and place on a clean surface (I like to use a cutting board since you’ll be slicing the rolls once they are rolled). Lay out 2-3 shrimp halves depending on their size in the bottom third of the circle, leaving about a half-inch border between edge of wrapper and filling. Lay down a leaf of lettuce, a few sticks of cucumber and carrot on top of the lettuce leaf, and a few leaves of mint and basil on top of that. Picking up the edge of the wrapper fold it over the filling and roll. Once the filling is rolled up once, fold in the ends to seal in the filling, then continue to roll the wrapper. Seal it closed with a little more water if the rice paper has started to dry out. With a sharp knife slice each roll in half. Serves about six as an appetizer.
Peanut Dipping Sauce
Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
Branching Out from Chips and Dip
While your guests may love the traditions of the Big Game (my friends are looking forward to drinking beer and seeing the new Budweiser commercials), I think they’ll still appreciate a different approach to the typical Big Game foods. And since we all know how crazy those supermarket lines get the day before a big event, consider ordering some of your ingredients, like the seafood, directly from Daily Fresh Fish with their convenient online ordering and delivery. Daily Fresh Fish’s seafood is incredibly fresh and sustainably-sourced. You also can make your prep time for things like shrimp rolls even easier by buying already cooked and prepared shrimp, so it will take minimal effort to impress your friends with your Houston-themed snack foods.