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Thai pomelo and chicken salad

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A fresh take on citrus salad

Thai pomelo salad, or Yam Som-o, was my favorite culinary discovery on my recent trip to Thailand. This dish is very popular in Thailand, but for some reason, pomelo salad is rarely on the menu in U.S. Thai restaurants.

 

I just served this salad at a charity function and one of the guests came back to the kitchen to tell me it was the best salad she had ever eaten in her life. I think it is a terrific dish and hope you give it a try.

Many versions of Thai pomelo salad recipe

I had the opportunity to eat several different versions of this delicious salad while in Thailand. Sometimes it is made with chicken and sometimes with shrimp. Sometimes coconut milk is used in the dressing and sometimes it is not. Crispy fried shallots are usually added to the salad, and as a garnish. If you have the time, don't skip this step as they add flavor and crunch.

I learned to make this Thai pomelo salad from Jeung, on the island of Koh Samui. She was a fabulous cook who taught me a lot about Thai cooking.

Where to buy pomelos

Thai outdoor markets are full of large fragrant pomelos. I was a little worried about being able to find them in California, but was pleasantly surprised when I found them in my local supermarket. I was surprised to learn that California is one of the largest growers of pomelos in the world. The season for pomelos is December through April.

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The secret to peeling and preparing pomelos

Pomelos have a very thick, spongy bitter pith that has to be removed. Once the pith is removed, you need to remove the membranes to get to the juice-filled vesicles. The first time I prepared a pomelo I hacked the poor fruit up pretty badly. There are some tricks. See my post on pomelos to learn how to prepare them.

Gluten-free and paleo-friendly

This dish is gluten-free if you use gluten-free Thai chili paste and Thai fish sauce. There are plenty of gluten-free versions of these ingredients, but sometimes hydrolyzed wheat protein is added to fish sauce, so it is best to check the ingredients to be sure.

Main course or a side

Serve this salad as a main course salad-for-dinner or as a side dish.

Variations

Substitute poached or grilled shrimp for the chicken for a seafood variation.

Tips

  • All pomelos are not created equal. Some are enormous, bowling-ball-sized orbs, and some are more like a large grapefruit. Some have sweet, white fruit and others have tarter pink fruit. Because of the wide variation in pomelo size, it is important to measure the amount of fruit you have after peeling to determine how many pomelos you will need. Plan on about 1 cup of prepared fruit per person.
  • In Thai cooking you always season to taste to balance hot, sour, salty, sweet and bitter. The number of Thai Bird's eye chilies, how much fish sauce, lime, salt and sugar you use is very personal. For these ingredients, always start with about half of what the recipe calls for, and then taste and adjust to your liking.
  • See my post on how to cut limes Thai-style.
  • This recipe is best served right after it is tossed. Go ahead and prepare the chicken and pomelo and crispy fried shallots in advance. Make the dressing just before serving and do not toss until you are ready to serve.
  • Thais and Vietnamese garnish a lot of recipes with crispy fried shallots, or Hom Daeng Jiaw. You can buy crispy shallots pre-cooked in Asian markets, but they are always best made fresh. See Andy Rickner's recipe for fried shallots from his Pok Pok cookbook. Bonus: when you make fried shallots, the bi-product is a delicious shallot-flavored oil which can be used for other purposes.

Thai pomelo and chicken salad

Yield 4 servings

Pomelo salad, or Yan Som-o, was my favorite culinary discovery on my trip to Thailand. This salad is a fresh, intensely flavorful, healthy dish, that tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before. Eat it as a main course or as a side dish.

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken thighs
  • 1 half stalk lemon grass, peeled and bruised
  • 1 T kosher salt
  • 1 half onion, peeled and chopped in quarters
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 pomelos, pithed and membranes romoved - roughly 4 cups
  • 3 ounces shallots
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1-2 t Thai red curry paste, to taste
  • 1/4 cup Thai fish sauce, to taste
  • 1 t sugar, to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, to taste
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 green onions, chopped in 1" lengths
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped cilantro, including stems
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
  • 1 - 6 Thai Bird's eye chiles, to taste
  • 3 T chopped roasted peanuts, divided
  • 2 T toasted shredded coconut
  • 12 butter lettuce leaves
  • 4 limes, sliced Thai-style

Instructions

  1. Poach chicken by putting chicken in a pot and covering it with about 2" of water. Add lemongrass, onion salt and chile flakes. Bring to a boil and reduce to medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Cover, remove from heat and let sit 15 minutes. Drain, let cool and shred. Set aside.
  2. See my post on how to remove pith and membranes from a pomelo. Once pith and membranes are removed, place pomelo in a bowl and gently separate the juice vesicles. Refrigerate until ready to toss the salad.
  3. You can make the crispy shallots a couple days in advance. Peel the shallots and slice in half from stem to root end. Finely slice the shallots across the grain. Put 2 cups of oil in a small pan and heat until 275 degrees. If you don't have a thermometer, the oil is ready when a piece of shallot added to the oil will immediately bubble. When oil is hot add all the shallots to the oil and turn down the heat to low. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shallots are golden brown and crispy. Remove the shallots from the pan and drain on paper towels. Shallots will keep in an airtight container for a couple days.
  4. A few minutes before you are ready to serve the salad make the dressing. In a small bowl whisk together the coconut milk with half of the following ingredients: the Thai red curry paste, Thai fish sauce, sugar and lime juice. Taste and adjust these seasonings and salt to your preference. Set aside.
  5. When you are ready to serve the salad, combine the chicken, pomelo, green onions, cilantro, mint, Thai Bird's eye chiles, 2 T peanuts and coconut flakes. Toss with the dressing.
  6. Serve the salad on individual salad plates, nestled between three butter lettuce leaves and garnished crispy shallots and lime wedges. Or mound on a large serving platter, and garnish with lettuce, crispy shallots and limes.

 

THIS SERVES WELL WITH

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