This post has been requested by my parents & their friend Doreen who all loved this dish so much they want to learn how to make it. Every cook loves it when people appreciate their food so I am really happy to be posting this recipe for them. It is a really lovely dish which we usually eat as a starter but you could make a bigger portion for main. The salad would be great as a healthy lunch option to take to work too. I would add a few prawns or some cold beef.
Thai salads are wonderful things. If you like really intense food then you should give them a try. I never order a curry in a Thai restaurant I nearly always go for a soup & salad combo as they are usually far tastier. I love the raw chili, lime & fish sauce dressings as they really pack a flavour punch.
My preferred Thai salad is with green papaya but I can’t buy the ingredients here. One of the most incredible dishes I have ever eaten was a green papaya salad with deep fried catfish in Chiang Mai in Thailand. That was about 15 years ago & I still remember everything about it. It was so hot it made my eyes water but it was also aromatic and crunchy and woke up every one of my tastebuds.
This recipe uses lots of the same ingredients & flavours. Green beans are essential as they give body and texture. I love to include some fennel for crunch and that aniseed taste you get from Thai Basil. However you can use lots of different vegetables such as bean sprouts, cucumber, carrots, spring onions or that kind of thing. Cucumber cools the palate which is why I don’t use it but I have served it that way & people enjoyed it.
I have made this recipe quite mild as I made it for my parents. However, a more authentic Thai version would have more chilies. The beauty of cooking at home is that you decide. The most important thing is to balance the flavours. The sugar is really important and I think lots of people forget to add this when cooking. If you make the dressing & it doesn’t seem right try adding more sugar. You don’t need to go out & buy palm sugar as any sugar will do, the granules will break down in the citrus. You will need to add the lime juice, sugar & fish sauce to your taste so the recipe is not precise about those measurements.
The preparation of the sea bass is also important. A crispy skin adds an important texture & taste. The temperature of the pan & the timing are really important but it is not that hard to cook fish fillets perfectly. I find a medium weight non-stick frying pan to be best for sauteing fish fillets. If your frying pan has a really thin base be careful not to burn the fish. For this recipe I do not baste the fish with oil or butter as I would normally as those flavours spoil the salad.
Thai Salad with Crispy Sea Bass
Ingredients (Serves 2 as a starter)
2 sea bass fillets
2 cloves garlic
2 cm piece lemongrass (finely sliced)
1 cm ginger (peeled & sliced)
2 birds eye chilies
finely grated rind of 1 lime
2 sprigs coriander leaf
3 cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp palm sugar (or honey, brown sugar, caster)
1-2 tbsp lime juice
1-2 tbsp fish sauce
50g long beans (blanched & cooled)
1/2 bulb fresh fennel
Handful of blanched & roasted peanuts
Sea Bass Fillets:
Do the first stage before making the dressing & then start to cook them when everything else is ready.
1. Prepare the sea bass fillets by unwrapping them & scoring the skin several times. Pat the skin dry with kitchen paper & leave them skin side up to dry out completely.
2. Rub a little salt onto the skin of the sea bass.
3. Place your pan on a medium-high heat and when it feels hot add the sea bass, skin side down. Turn the heat down immediately to medium. Do not move the fish.
4. Season the fish with plenty of salt.
5. It is impossible to give an exact cooking time but the fillets will need at least 4 minutes on this side. You should look for the flesh of the fish starting to cook round the edges. You can lift the corner of a fillet to see if the skin is cooked but the less they are moved the better.
6. Once the skin is well-cooked & crispy flip the fish over & cook the flesh side for a minute. Any longer & the fish will become hard & start to dry. Take the fillets out of the pan & serve them skin side up on top of the salad.
Thai Salad Dressing:
(You can blanch the beans while preparing this)
1. Place the garlic, ginger & lemongrass in a pestle & mortar. Start to pound these with a tiny pinch of salt (the salt helps to break down the ingredients). Add the chilis, lime rind & coriander after a minute or so & smash everything into a rough paste.
2. Slice the tomatoes & add them to the paste & keep mashing up the ingredients. (Be careful once the tomatoes go in as they expel a lot of liquid).
3. Now add the fish sauce, lime juice & sugar & give everything a thorough mixing to dissolve the sugar.
4. That is basically it. The important thing is to now check the seasoning & balance of flavours. If it is too hot, add more sugar. Too salty, add more lime juice. Too sour, add some salt. Keep playing until it tastes great. Drain about half of the liquid away.
5. If you want to prepare this in advance it can be done to this stage & left to infuse. This dressing will keep in the fridge for at least a week, probably longer.
6. Add the beans & peanuts to the dressing & smash them up a bit.
To serve the salad you should prepare your vegetables & place them on plates. Then add the dressing with the beans & peanuts to cover the vegetables. Finally top with the sea bass fillets & a garnish of coriander leaves.