The spice is right


As you know I’m a big fan of South-East Asian food, it’s just so different, so colourful, so exotic. The hot, sour, salty triumvirate of Thai cookery strikes a perfect chord with me. I’ve even learnt to love the smell of nam pla, the fish sauce made by fermenting the little blighters – a whiff of which is enough to make most run a mile. Yet its pungent saltiness is as quintessential to Thai cuisine as soy is to Chinese. It adds that background note, much the same as anchovies do when stuffed into roast lamb with rosemary and garlic.

Sometimes when you make a Thai curry at home it can lack a bit of punch. Rolled up into a cigar and finely sliced, fresh Kaffir lime leaves – the dried ones aren’t worth a sniff – from your local Asian supermarket will really give it zing. Add an extra splash of fish sauce, a squeeze of lime, and you’ll be fighting over the last spoonfuls in no time.

Squid can be tricky – overcooked it turns instantly to rubber. Watch it like a hawk while you’re cooking it, or steam as an alternative. I love the light crispy coating coupled with the sour, spicy sauce in the following recipe.

Crispy Squid Salad

Ingredients (Serves 2-3)

  • 350g cleaned squid
  • 75g corn flour
  • 10 lime leaves, rolled and finely sliced
  • Groundnut oil for deep-frying

For the dressing

  • 2 stalks of lemongrass
  • 5 Thai pink shallots or red onions
  • 1 thumb-sized piece of galangal or ginger
  • 2 limes
  • 1 tbs nam pla (fish sauce)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 or 2 bird’s eye chillis

To serve

  • 60g peanuts, lightly crushed
  • optional bunch of mint, chopped

Peel the lemongrass, removing the tough outer leaves until you are left with the soft centre. Finely slice. Peel and finely slice the shallots or dice up the red onion. Peel and grate the ginger or galangal if using. Squeeze the limes and mix with the fish sauce, sugar and chillis. Add the rest of the ingredients for the dressing, stirring to ensure the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Heat an inch of groundnut or other flavourless oil in a deep-sided sauce pan. You can test the temperature by dropping in a cube of bread – it should turn brown in one minute. Make sure the squid is clean and dry, then slice into rings.

Season the cornflour and place it in a bowl. Toss the squid in the  cornflour and, after shaking off the excess flour, fry in batches for a minute or so. Don’t overcrowd pan as the fat may bubble up. As usual when deep frying, take extra care. Drain rings on kitchen paper and keep warm in a low oven.

When all the squid is cooked, deep fry the lime leaves for around ten seconds, until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, place the squid on a serving dish and spoon over the dressing. Scatter over the mint and peanuts and lime leaves.

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