Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nam Tok (Thai Grilled Pork Salad)

In my next life, I want to be a chef in Thailand. I just love the incredible sweet/sour/hot combinations prevalent in Thai food. During the eleven years that we had our business downtown, I loved to eat at Sawatdee, which is without a doubt, the best Thai restaurant in Minneapolis. Out the back door and through the alley, my lunch there was always the same....a spicy squid salad with a fresh vegetarian spring roll.

This Nam Tok recipe, which appeared in the Wall Street journal (my very favorite newspaper), is the creation of chef Johnny Monis and his wife, Anne Marier. It hits every single note of Thai greatness. Salty fish sauce, lime juice, heat from chili paste, shallots, mint, scallions and cilantro. To cleanse the palate during the meal, I recommend serving the salad with a side of sticky rice:

This recipe calls for roasted rice powder. It will tell you how to make it. I shop at a number of Asian specialty stores online and have quite a bit of it on hand. So if you have access to the pre-made powder, use that. Otherwise just follow the simple instructions to make your own. This recipe serves four.

4 well-marbled pork shoulder steaks (1/4-inch thick, about 1 pound total)
5 tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat recommended)
1/4 cup raw rice (jasmine or sticky)
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon Thai chili paste
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin
1 bunch scallions, peeled, trimmed and sliced thin
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves
1 small head of green cabbage, cored and cut into quarters
1/2 English cucumber, sliced into rounds

  1. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to medium. Rub pork steaks with 2 tablespoons fish sauce and set aside. 
  2. Place raw rice in a small sauté pan set over medium-low heat. Toast rice until lightly browned, shaking pan occasionally to ensure even toasting, 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, grind rice into a coarse powder.
  3. Grill pork until just cooked through and browned, 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 10 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, whisk together remaining 3 tablespoons fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and chilies. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Slice pork against the grain into thin, wide strips. Pour runoff pork juices into dressing. 
  6. In a salad bowl, toss pork with shallots, scallions, cilantro and mint. Add 1-2 tablespoons toasted, crushed rice and toss to combine. Dress with enough vinaigrette to lightly coat salad.
  7. Serve pork salad with cabbage wedges, cucumber slices and extra dressing alongside, for dipping. Sprinkle extra rice powder over top. 

Pairing: New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. If you'd like to try something different, pair this dish with Singha Thai beer.

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