Making the cut.


Every time I serve a really ambitious meal I invariably drop one item from the menu. No matter how well prepared I think I am, something unexpected happens and I’ve got to make a cut for timing’s sake. Learning this hard-earned lesson began Christmas 2001, when my family sat down to Beef Wellington and Baked Alaska at 11:20 PM. Pictures still circulate of us sitting around the table exhausted, our noses nearly touching our plates.

At Christmas dinner this year, After a hiccup with dessert preparations, I cut one of the hors d’oeuvres: phyllo cups filled with sweet chili-spiced shrimp, topped with cucumber, ginger salsa. I live in fear of phyllo and was likely subconsciously just looking for an out. Kind of like when reorganizing your sock drawer gets in the way of a skydiving trip.

With a pound and a half of shrimp in the house, we revisited the recipe the next day. My fear of phyllo has been unfounded. The cups were easy to make and far prettier and better sized than store bought for the chopped shrimp. Sure, in a pinch you can buy pre-made phyllo cups right out of the freezer case – they’ll be with the puff pastry – usually near breakfast items. But take a few minutes to make your own, or just cut them from the menu and enjoy popping one after the other while relaxing the next day.

Spiced Shrimp In Phyllo Cups

With a catering job coming up in two weeks, I wanted to see if these would hold up, pre-filled, for three hours, allowing me to assemble them ahead of time. The filled cups remained crispy after three hours both in the fridge and at room temp. Note: for food safety, please chill these, but for flavor, we preferred them at room temp. Just take them out of the fridge for fifteen minutes before serving.

For salsa:

  • 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped about 1.5 cups
  • 3 scallions, whites and greens, finely chopped
  • 1/4 finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • Sriracha hot chili sauce

For shrimp:

  • 1 tbs peanut oil
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped, white and light green parts only
  • 1.5# cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed*
  • 1 tbs Tamari soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup sweet chili sauce
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro

*You can buy Medium (40-50 count) or large (30-40 count). The large will require less prep work.

For phyllo cups:

  • 1 package phyllo dough sheets*
  • butter, melted, and lots of it
  • Mini muffin tins

*You will need to purchase the phyllo dough at least 24 hours ahead of time and allow it to defrost in your refrigerator over night. This is important – DO NOT defrost phyllo at room temperature.


  • Make the salsa: Mix cucumber, ginger, scallions and cilantro together. Season to taste with rice wine vinegar, sriracha and salt. Sriracha is HOT so add a little at a time. Refrigerate to let flavors develop.
  • Prepare the shrimp. Begin by heating the oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the scallions until softened.
  • Add the shrimp and sauté until cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Do not crowd in the pan. Cook in batches if necessary.
  • Roughly chop the shrimp into 1/4 -1/2 inch pieces, and toss with soy, chill sauce and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Taste it first, because the soy adds some salt.
  • Make phyllo cups: Heat oven to 375 F.
  • Butter a mini muffin tin.
  • Remove the phyllo dough from the package and lay flat on the counter. Remove one sheet from the stack and cover the remaining sheets with a barely damp kitchen towel.
  • Brush the single sheet with butter using a pastry brush. With a sharp knife, cut the phyllo into 2-3 inch squares.
  • Layer four squares inside each depression in the muffin tin, overlapping them in the bottom and sticking up slightly over the edges. The top edges will not be even.
  • When you have filled a tray, brush the insides of the phyllo cups with butter and bake until golden brown – about 5 minutes. They cook fast, so check after 3 minutes.
  • Remove tins from oven and cool slightly. Lift cups out to a cooling rack.*
  • Fill each cup with a tablespoon or two of shrimp and a teaspoon of salsa. Serve at or slightly below room temp.

*Note: If your kitchen is cool and you let these sit in the tins for a bit, the butter can harden, glueing the cups into the tin. To avoid breaking them, rewarm the tin. Our oven is not well insulated, so I just placed my muffin tin on the stovetop which was still warm after baking. They will slide right out.

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