Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thai Beef Salad (Yam Neua)

"I can still recall the sweat pouring off my brow as I sat in a small neighboorhood Bangkok restaurant and attempted to put out the fire with endless bottles of Singha beer..."

I can see the autumn rain lashing against the window as a I type, which has brought home the fact that summer is pretty much over and therefore the salad season is almost lost to us. However, I reckon there is at least another couple of weeks where you can mix and match your butternut squash risotto and kale soup with some more summery offerings like this extremely delicious Thai beef salad.

A salad like this one was the first thing I ever ate in Thailand. I can still recall the sweat pouring off my brow as I sat in a small neighbourhood Bangkok restaurant (no Khao San Road tourist traps on this occasion) and attempted to put out the fire with endless bottles of Singha beer. 

Technically, the recipe is relatively straight forward. However, success depends on you getting the balance in the dressing between the heat from the chilli, the salt from the fish sauce, the sourness from the lime and the sweet from the sugar spot on. So keep tasting as you add each ingredient until you reach perfect equilibrium. 

Also please try and make sure you buy good quality beef. This might seem a luxury if you are going to douse it in a punchy dressing and eat your steak as a salad, but tasteless supermarket steak isn't worth the money you pay for it. Instead, go to a good butcher and get a piece of dry aged rump, onglet or bavette. Each of these cuts has enough flavour to stand up to the dressing, is relatively good value, and a little goes a long way.

Thai Beef Salad (Yam Neua)

Serves 2

400-500g steak, taken out of the fridge and at room temperature (see above)

2 little gem lettuces
5-6 spring onions, finely sliced
half a cucumber, finely sliced into half moons
1 bunch each of mint and coriander

3-4 tbsp fish sauce
juice 1-2 limes
1-2 red chillis, finely sliced
thumb sized piece ginger, finely sliced into matchsticks
sugar - palm sugar ideally or caster if not

  1. Start of by making the dressing. Combine the fish sauce, juice of 1 lime, chilli, ginger and 1/2 tsp sugar in a bowl and give a good mix. Now taste and add more of each of the ingredients as you prefer. It is hard to be too prescriptive as you might like more or less chilli, lime, sugar etc than me. Remember you can always add more of one ingredient to balance the other, e.g. more sugar to balance the chilli. The goal is to end up with a fragrant yet punchy little dressing to go with the beef.
  2. Now set the dressing to one side and assemble the salad in a bowl. Tear the lettuce up, keeping the smaller leaves whole and then add the spring onions, cucumber, mint and coriander. Leave the herbs whole rather than slicing them, just pick away the leaves from the woodier pieces of stem, which you can discard.
  3. Once the salad and dressing are ready you can turn attentions to the steak. Heat a frying pan or griddle until it is smoking hot, oil the steak and sear on both sides. Obviously tastes vary but I think the steak should be cooked medium-rare for this salad, so that it is pink all the way through. Therefore I would cook it for a couple of minutes a side, but you adjust the time according to the thickness of the steak and how you would like it cooked.
  4. When cooked to your liking, take the steak out of the pan and leave to rest for five minutes. Then slice thinly against the grain of the meat, add the slices of steak to salad, pour over enough dressing to lubricate thoroughly, toss and serve with a cold beer!

A champion salad to warm the cockles on even the chilliest of autumnal evenings.

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