Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Cooking: Thai fish salad

This recipe was taken from my recent cookery class at Sailors Thai, the famous Sydney restaurant originally opened by David Thompson. The recipes and techniques are very similar to those found in the books Thai Food and Thai Street Food.

Obtaining the ingredients for this recipe is going to be easier if you live close to a Thai supermarket. I can strongly recommend both Mae Cheng and Thai Pathong on Campbell St in Sydney. Other recipes in this mini-series:
- Thai Beef Salad
- Thai Green Curry Paste

- Thai Green Chicken Curry
- Thai coconut milk chronicles
I was pretty nervous making this recipe at home. First, because not being a big fish fan, I can count on my fingers the number of times I have cooked fish. Not a good start for a fish dish! Second, the dressing is key to the salad and I was worried about getting the balance right. Luckily the end result exceeded my expectations! The salad feels light, but at the same time the dressing and salad ingredients create a really interesting combination of flavours. Unless you eat a lot of Thai food you will probably find the flavour combinations quite unique.

Serves 4 as part of the banquet to share.

300g of firm flesh white fish e.g. snapper
1 tbsp of ginger, finely diced
3 red shallots, finely diced
2 small green chillies, finely sliced
1 lime, the flesh chopped
A handful of betel leaves, chopped
Half a bunch of mint, leaves picked
Half a bunch of coriander, leaves picked
A few cashew nuts
Fish sauce

1/4 cup of tamarind water
1/4 cup of fish sauce
4 tbsp of palm sugar
Some extra fish sauce and lime juice to season / balance the dressing.

1.  The first step is to make the dressing. Mix the tamarind water, fish sauce and palm sugar in a pan and boil until a thick syrup forms that coats the back of a spoon. You need to have quite a lot of confidence and boil the ingredients quite fiercely. This will take 5/10mins.

Once you have a syrup, cool it to room temperature. As it cools it will thicken to a treacle like consistency. The dressing can be made several hours before needed.

2.  Prepare the ingredients for your salad.
- Pick the mint and coriander leaves. Place them in an air tight container and store in the fridge until needed.
- Wash, dry and then slice the betel leaves. Place in an air tight container.
- Finely dice the ginger. You want a fine and regular dice so people don't bite into large lumps of raw ginger.
- Finely dice the Asian shallots, as above the dice should be fine and regular.
- Finely slice the chillies
- Finely dice / chop the lime. In the restaurant they used all of the lime including the skin and pith. I only used the flesh of my lime, tasting the skin I didn't think it would work. I'm not sure if the lime juice would have 'cooked' / softened the lime skins?

Place the ginger, shallot, chili and lime in a mixing bowl and leave to rest.

Steps 1 & 2 can be done several hours in advance if desired.

3.  Marinade the fish fillets in fish sauce for 20mins. Remove the fillets from the fish sauce, pat dry with kitchen paper and then leave to completely air dry.

4.  To cook the fish you can either deep or pan fry the fillets. Depending on the thickness they will only take 3-4 minutes. Once cooked drain on kitchen paper.

5.  Add the betel, mint and coriander leaves to the mixing bowl with your ginger, shallots, chili and lime. Add the cashew nuts. When cool enough to handle, flake the fish into the salad.

6.  To finish the dressing, take your tamarind syrup and loosen with some fish sauce and lime juice. It's really important to do this by taste. You should have a hot sour from the tamarind, saltiness from the fish sauce and a cut of lime. Keep balancing and tasting until you have a dressing you are happy with. (I added about two parts lime to one part fish sauce.)

7.  Dress your salad, mix well to combine all the ingredients and then serve.


  1. Looks great Richard! And thanks for the good tips!

  2. Yummy.

    i cant believe you don't cook much fish. I love fish soo much. i eat it often.

    This looks yummy, I might try it

  3. Sounds really good Richard!
    Having eaten Thai many times don't think I've actually ever had a fish salad!