Oh, this salad is really phenomenal. And I’m not even a fan of salads. The addition of crispy fried fish makes it a filling and carb-free meal, if you’re into that kind of diet.
I’ve come across recipes for Thai pomelo salad on the web and nothing excited me enough to make my version. Then, we saw a two-episode show on the Asian Food Network and there was this chef adding chunks of fish to what I had always thought to be a fruit and herb salad. That did it for me. I was going to try it at home.
This salad has three components, and I will explain them one by one. Let’s start with the fish. It is, after all, the ingredient that made the salad appealing enough for me to try.
I used tilapia. One whole fish which was scored, salted and fried until golden and the skin was crisp. While it cooled — it’s a bad idea to handle it with the hands to remove the bones and break the flesh into chunks — the two other components of the salad were prepped.
Fish sauce, palm sugar and lime juice, finely sliced cilantro stems and one bird’s eye chili. The traditional way to make the dressing is to grind the sugar with the chili and cilantro into a paste then slowly drizzle in the fish sauce and lime juice to make a pourable mixture. I did not want to grind the chili because that would have made the dressing mouth-scorching hot, and my tolerance for hot food isn’t that high.
Now, the proportion. How much palm sugar, fish sauce and lime juice? The most common ratio is 1:1:2. That’s one part palm sugar, one part fish sauce and two parts lime juice. Too tart for me. I prefer a ratio of 2:1:2. Two parts palm sugar, one part fish sauce and two parts lime juice.
Pomelo and herbs
What is pomelo? Pomelo is a natural non-hybrid citrus native to Southeast Asia. The skin is green when the fruit is unripe then it turns yellowish as the fruit ripens. The pulp may be yellow or pink. Pomelo is NOT grapefruit.
For this recipe, I used three segments of pomelo which were just enough to make a salad for two people. Note that you may always use more.
The herbs that went into the salad are lemongrass (of course!) which was peeled to remove the fibrous outer layers then thinly sliced. A pair of kaffir lime leaves, ribs removed, was sliced as thinly as I could manage. For the leafy herbs, a combination of Thai basil, mint and cilantro.
- 300 grams tilapia
- cooking oil
- 2 teaspoons palm sugar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- 1 bird's eye chili thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced cilantro stems
Cook the fish
- Score the fish (skip this if using fillets) and rub both sides generously with salt and pepper.
- Heat enough cooking oil in a frying pan to reach a depth of three inches.
- Deep fry the fish until the surface is a deep golden brown and crisp.
- Scoop out the fish, rest on rack and leave to cool.
Make the dressing
- Measure the palm sugar into a bowl and press with the back of a spoon to loosen.
- Pour in the fish sauce and lime juice, and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Stir in the chili and cilantro stems.
- Leave to infuse.
Complete the salad
- Peel and discard the outer layers of the lemongrass until you reach the soft interior. Slice as thinly as you can.
- Break the pomelo pulp into bite-size pieces.
- Pull off the midrib of the kaffir lime leaves and discard. Slice the leaves as thinly as you can manage.
- Take the cooled fish, separate from the bones (skip if using fillets) and break up the flesh into bite-size pieces.
- Place the fish, pomelo, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil, mint and cilantro in a mixing bowl and toss gently to distribute the ingredients evenly.
- Drizzle in a tablespoon of the dressing and toss again.
- Transfer the salad into a shallow bowl (or two bowls) and serve the remaining dressing on the side.