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Thai Seafood Salad (Yum Talay)

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Serves four as a light main course or six as an appetizer.

  • by Nancie McDermott from Fine Cooking
    Issue 87

This dish boasts a playful mix of flavors: the natural sweetness of fresh seafood, the breezy notes of cilantro and mint, and the sharp accent of lime juice against a little sizzle of chile heat.

In Thai cuisine, a yum is a hearty dish consisting mostly of meat, fish, or seafood, tossed just before serving with a simple mixture of fish sauce, fresh or dried chiles, lime juice, and herbs and often served atop a bed of salad greens. A yum is a stand-alone dish, perfect for a light main course or even an appetizer. The word yum refers to the action of combining an array of hot and tangy ingredients, and talay is the Thai word for ocean; thus, the mixed seafood version is called yum talay.

You can prepare the components in advance but be sure to yum the dressing and seafood right before serving—this is the key to keeping the vibrant flavors distinct.

For the seafood:
  • 24 small mussels
  • 1 Tbs. table salt
  • 3/4 lb. medium (51 to 60 per lb.) fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 lb. cleaned squid, bodies sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch rings and tentacles cut in half if large
  • 1/2 lb. sea scallops or bay scallops
  • 1/4 lb. fresh or pasteurized jumbo lump crabmeat
Tip:
You can find frozen cleaned squid in 1-lb. packages in the freezer section. Some markets have thawed cleaned squid on ice at the seafood counter.
For the dressing:
  • 6 Tbs. fresh lime juice (from 2 limes)
  • 4-1/2 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1-1/2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped unseeded fresh hot green chiles (like serrano or jalapeño)
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped garlic (2 medium cloves)
For the salad:
  • 2 cups bite-size pieces of Boston lettuce, rinsed and spun dry (1 large head)
  • 3 Tbs. thinly sliced shallot (1 large)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions (4 to 5, white and green parts)
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup sliced English cucumber (halve cucumber lengthwise and slice into 1/4-inch-thick half-moons)
  • 1/2 cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
Tip:
Chop the cilantro and mint at the last minute, just before mixing with the salad, so their flavor won't have time to fade.
Cook the seafood:

Scrub the mussels well under running water and pull off any "beards." Discard any mussels that don't close tightly when tapped on the counter. Put closed mussels in a medium saucepan. Add about 1/2 cup water, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/4 inch. Cover and set over high heat. Bring to a rolling boil and cook until the shells have opened, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer to a plate, and let stand until cool enough to handle. Discard any unopened ones. Remove the cooked mussels from their shells and put in a medium bowl; discard the shells and cooking liquid.

To cook the remaining seafood, bring a 3-qt. saucepan of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the salt and let the water return to a boil. Pour the shrimp into the boiling water and cook until the largest one is pink on the outside, opaque on the inside, and just cooked through, about 2 minutes. The water may not return to the boil before they are done. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drop into the bowl with the mussels.

After the water returns to a rolling boil, add the squid and cook just until they become firm and the rings turn bright white, about 1 minute. Scoop them out and drop them into the bowl along with the shrimp and mussels.

When the water returns to a rolling boil, cook the scallops until just cooked through and no longer translucent inside, 1 to 2 minutes for bay scallops, 2 to 3 minutes for sea scallops. Scoop them out and drop into the bowl as well (if using sea scallops, you may want to halve or quarter them first).

Add the lump crabmeat chunks to the bowl of seafood. Set the seafood aside on the counter while you prepare the dressing and other ingredients for the salad.

Make the dressing:

In a medium-large bowl, combine the lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, chiles, and garlic. Stir to dissolve the sugar and combine everything well. Set aside.

Assemble the salad:

Arrange the lettuce on a large serving platter or on individual serving plates as a bed for the seafood.

Transfer the cooked seafood to the bowl containing the lime-juice dressing. Add the shallots and use your hands or a wooden spoon to gently toss everything well. Add the scallions, cilantro, and mint and mix well again. Scoop the seafood onto the platter or serving plates with a slotted spoon. Toss the cucumber and tomato in the dressing remaining in the bowl and scatter around the seafood. Drizzle any remaining dressing from the bowl over the salad, especially over any lettuce not covered by the seafood. Serve immediately.

Make Ahead Tips

The seafood can be cooked up to 4 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered. Let it sit at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before dressing.

Drink Suggestions

Try a light, crisp, off-dry Riesling like the 2005 Mönchhof Estate Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, $14, or the 2005 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, $14.

nutrition information (per serving):
Size : based on six servings; Calories (kcal): 200; Fat (g): 2.5; Fat Calories (kcal): 20; Saturated Fat (g): 0.5; Protein (g): 31; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 0; Carbohydrates (g): 12; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 1; Sodium (mg): 1700; Cholesterol (mg): 205; Fiber (g): 1;

Photo: Scott Phillips

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