hot and sour shrimp salad (plah gung)

1/2 lb shrimp
6 whole thai chiles
cut into thin rounds
2 tsp roasted chili paste
a.k.a. nahm prik pow, see Roasted Chili Paste
2 tbsp fish sauce
a.k.a. nahm bplah, to taste
2 tbsp lime juice
to taste
2 tsp granulated sugar
to taste
1 stalk lemon grass
1 whole shallot
halved lengthwise and sliced thinly crosswise
2 tbsp cilantro
coarsely chopped, can substitute with sawleaf coriander or parsley
4 tbsp mint leaves
coarsley chopped
3 cups boiling water
mint sprigs
for garnish
Hot and Sour salads lie at the heart of Thai cuisine. There are so many different ways to make them, and even though they are essentially hot with chillies and sour with lime juice, the balance of flavor can be such that each is distinctly unique. In this recipe, the sauce combines a subtle roasted dimension from the roasted chilli paste with the heat of fresh chillies and the sharp sour of lime juice. Try this recipe also with squid, scallops, shelled mussels and clams and firm fish, or a combination of seafood. It is delicious with sea bass.
Saltwater Bath to Freshen Shrimp
Shell, devein and butterfly the shrimp.
Place them in a bowl and add sea salt and water to barely cover. (For each pound, use one generous teaspoon of sea salt and half a cup of water.) Mix with your hand for a few seconds to dissolve the salt and gently massage the shrimp. Set aside for five to ten minutes. The water will quickly turn grey and murky.
Rinse thoroughly in plenty of cool water to remove all the salt. Drain well. (For stir-fried dishes, make sure they are not wet when you are ready to cook; if they are, pat dry with a clean towel.)
For the Salad
In a small bowl, mix the Thai chillies with the roasted chilli paste, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Taste and adjust to the desired hot, sour, sweet and salty combination. The sauce should be intense in all respects.
Trim off and discard the woody bottom tip of the lemon grass and 2-3 of the loose, fibrous outer layers. Slice stalk from the bottom end into very thin rounds, to yield roughly 3 tablespoons. Place in a mixing bowl with the sliced shallots, coarsely chopped cilantro and mint leaves.
Blanch the shrimp in boiling water for 20 seconds, or until they turn pink on the outside but are not completely cooked through. Drain. The shrimp will be further cooked by the lime juice in the sauce.
Toss the shrimp while still warm with the herb mix and the chilli-lime sauce. Stir well to coat the shrimp.
Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with mint sprigs.
Saltwater bath: Soaking the shrimp in their own element – sea salted water – helps perk them up, giving them a fresher smell, and when cooked, a crisp, succulent texture. Some that really have been dehydrated by prolonged freezing may even grow in size.

Undercooking the shrimp helps them retain their natural sweetness and gives them a tender, moist texture.

For a variation using jumbo-size prawns: butterfly the prawns in their shell and grill over hot coals until they turn pink, are slightly charred but a little undercooked. Arrange on a serving platter. Toss the herbs with the sauce and spread on top of the grilled prawns. Likewise, the seasoned herbs can be used on grilled lobster.

For a special, refreshing touch, slice a sour tangerine and toss in with the shrimp, herbs and sauce.