Sunday, September 23, 2007

“Yam Neua” or Thai Beef Salad.

I love ‘Yam Neua’, there is something about the combination of the warm meat, the cool, crisp vegetables and the delightful assault on the senses of the tastes of sour, sweet, salt and the heat of the chilli. There are probably as many variations on how to make this salad as there are cooks and I thought I would share with you my own version. To put this salad together is a work of great simplicity, though a little time consuming, but it is really worth giving it a go.

Ingredients (serve 4):

750g Beef filet
50g, Celery ‘leaves’ (not the main big stalks), chopped fine
50g, Fresh coriander, chopped fine
50g, fresh mint, chopped fine
3 spring onions, chopped fine
1 large cucumber
1 romaine/cos lettuce
Toasted rice, crushed. (optional)
Ground pepper

For the dressing:

3 tbsp fresh lime juice
3 tbsp Nam Pla/fish sauce
3 tbsp cold water
2 fresh Thai chilli, chopped fine
2 tbsp good beef stock
1 tbsp caster sugar

Okay, first of all the beef. You need a very lean cut here, and fillet is the obvious choice, You could opt for topside or silverside which I think has slightly more flavour. My favourite cut, rib-eye, has too much fat and wouldn’t be suitable.

The celery leaves are crucial here and really give an intense flavour so do try and buy a bunch of celery stalks that has a lot of the leaves on them. You want the leaves and their thin stalks for this salad, not the big thick stalks of celery.

A lot of recipes call for the use of shallots. Personally I find the taste too onion-ey and so prefer to use spring onions instead.

Toasted rice is very simply uncooked rice which you brown over a medium high heat in a dry frying pan. The rice will brown (do watch it and don’t let it burn) and gives a wonderful nutty flavour. Adding the rice is optional but I really like the combination of something slightly crunchy and giving a lovely nutty flavour. I would recommend including it if you can be bothered.

Nam Pla (also called nuoc nam which is the Vietnamese equivalent) is fermented fish sauce and is used as a flavouring and condiment all over South East Asia. I have seen this stuff being made and it is not pleasant I can tell you, but it tastes great!

Try and buy Thai (Birds Eye chillis) if you can find them, green or red it doesn’t matter. Be warned these little bastards are very hot but deliver the authentic amount of kick.

I get a bit boring about stocks. MAKE YOUR OWN. Stock cubes are abhorrent, almost 100% salt and ruin food. Making stock is the easiest thing in the world to do, make a batch, freeze it in ice cube trays and you have your very own delicious stock cubes. If you use shop bought stuff in this recipe it would be awful because nam pla is incredibly salty and combined with all the salt in the stock cubes it would be mouth puckeringly bad. If you don’t have your own home made stuff leave it out of the dressing, it’s not a big deal.

Anyway, here we go. Start off by washing, chopping and combining in a bowl the celery leaves, cucumber, mint, coriander, spring onions. Don’t chop the celery leaves and cucumber too small, you want them to be easy to pick up with chopsticks. The herbs should be chopped quite fine though. Quite a good trick with the cucumber is to use a cheese slicer and slice the cucumber length-ways so you get nice long wide ribbons of the stuff.

Place the beef in a shallow bowl and pour 1 tbs of nam pla over it. Also liberally grind fresh black pepper over both sides. Leave to stand.

Toast the rice in a dry frying pan until brown. Grind in mortar and pestle until a coarse powder.

Make dressing by combining 3tbs each of lime juice, nam pla and cold water. Add 2tbs of proper beef stock (cold) and 1tbs caster sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves. Add to the dressing 2 (or more if you are a nutter) very finely sliced Thai chillis. If you don’t use rubber gloves doing this please do not pick your nose or rub your eyes!

Heat a cast iron griddle until very hot (or heat a normal grill) and throw the meat on it. Quickly sear both sides, remove and leave to rest on a chopping board. I personally prefer my beef very rare, others of course don’t, but I would suggest for this recipe you try and leave the beef a little pink in the middle at least. For a steak about an inch (2cms) thick I wouldn’t cook it more than 1 minute either side. You can test the ‘doneness’ of a steak by prodding it with tongs (do not pierce it with a knife or fork). The firmer it feels the better done it is.

On a large plate, or very shallow bowl, place a few whole leaves of crisp lettuce, breaking the ‘spine’ so that they sit flat (romaine (cos) is best for this but iceberg would also do). Pile the chopped salad ingredients on top of the lettuce. Slice the beef into thin strips along the grain as finely as you can and place on top of the salad. With a spoon pour the dressing all over the beef and greenery and then sprinkle liberally with the ground toasted rice. Top with a couple of leaves of coriander and / or mint if you fancy.

No comments: