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Tasty Thai Fish Salad

Lynda Booth's Food Blog
Lynda Booth's Food Blog

This Thai salad has a combination of textures and colour, and is full of fresh and vibrant flavours. There are two key elements that define the dish. The first is the dressing that gets to the heart of Thai cooking because it is a wonderful balance of contrasting elements. With heat from the chillies, sweetness from the sugar, sourness from the lime juice and saltiness from the fish sauce, the challenge is to start with ingredients as outlined and then add a bit more of one or the other until the taste is to your liking. There is a real scope here for your creative side.

The second key element is the deep fried fish. We are used to eating fish dipped in batter but here the fish is uncoated. It is dipped into bubbling oil just long enough for it to become a rich golden colour so that the outside tastes caramelised and yet the flesh remains beautifully moist.

if you go down to your local Asian market, you can get Asian green mangoes (which have much firmer flesh and a more bitter taste than the regular mangoes), fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. You will also probably find lovely big bunches of Asian mint and coriander (if the coriander has the root attached to the stem – all the better). Good knife skills in Thai cooking are always an advantage as the lemongrass must be very finely chopped, the mangoes sliced into thin strips and the kaffir lime shredded oh so so finely.

Fabulous in the summer or winter as a dish in itself, or served as a starter, this salad is bound to be memorable.

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Serves 4

500g cod fillet, skin on (or use brill, turbot or halibut)

Dash of light soya sauce
Pinch of white sugar
Pinch of ground white pepper

Dressing
3cm ends of coriander stems from about 10 stalks coriander
(It is unlikely that you will find coriander roots for the dressing. These are sometimes available in the Asian market. If so, use about 5 coriander roots instead)
Pinch of sea salt
1 garlic clove
1 green bird’s eye chilli, seeds left in
50ml lime juice
20g caster sugar
20ml fish sauce

For the salad
1 stalk lemongrass
8 lime leaves
6 firm green Asian mangoes
6 Thai red shallots or 4 small regular shallots
Handful of mint
Handful of coriander leaves
10 cloves garlic
Handful of cashew nuts

Method

To prepare the salad
Cut 1cm off the root end of the lemongrass and 3cm from the top and discard. Remove two of the outer sheaths of the lemongrass and also discard. Slice the rest of the stalk very very finely – basically as thinly as you possibly can with a sharp chopping knife. Slice the lime leaves into chiffonade i.e into the finest possible strips. Peel the mangoes, slice into matchstick strips. Remove the small white stone as you go and discard.

To prepare the fish, remove any pin bones if necessary with a fish tweezers and discard. Cut the fish into 5 pieces, leaving the skin on. About 20 minutes before serving, place the fish on a plate and drizzle with a little light soy sauce. Leave to sit at room temperature until ready to deep fry.

To deep fry garlic and cashew nuts
Fill a wok to about half full with sunflower oil. Line a tray with kitchen paper. Heat the oil to a temperature of approximately 350-375C. When hot, deep fry the cashew nuts for a couple of minutes until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Slice the garlic cloves lengthways into thin slices. Deep fry the garlic and cook until a pale golden colour. Drain on kitchen paper. The nuts and garlic may be prepared in advance, even the day before, and kept in an airtight container. The fish can be cooked in the wok closer to the time of serving.

To make the dressing
Chop the coriander stalks very finely and place in a pestle and mortar. If using coriander roots instead, simply place them whole into the pestle and mortar. Add a pinch of sea salt and pound with the pestle until crushed to a paste. Add in the garlic and crush again. Chop the chilli roughly and add to the pestle and mortar. Pound with the other ingredients to a paste. Mix in the lime juice, caster sugar and fish sauce. Stir all together and then taste to check the balance of seasonings. Add a little more sugar if the dressing is too limey, a little more chilli if more heat is required or a hint of fish sauce, if you desire a little more saltiness. The dressing should be made as close to the time as possible, but an hour in advance is fine.

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To deep fry the fish
Reheat the oil to a temperature of about 350-375C. If you do not have a thermometer, drop a piece of white bread into the oil. It should go golden in about 10 seconds. Dry off the fish with a bit of kitchen paper and then cook in a couple of batches in the hot oil for about 4 or 5 minutes or until a lovely golden colour. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on kitchen paper.

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When all the fish has been deepfried, break it into large bite sized pieces and add to the bowl of salad. Pour some dressing over the salad. Toss and taste, adding more dressing if required. Serve immediately on a platter.

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