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Unbelievably Delicious Yam Plah Duk Foo

Yam Plah Duk FooAmong Thai friends, the equivalent of “How are you doing?” seems to be “Have you eaten yet?” In many ways, this expresses the Thais deep love of food, and among their favorites is Yam Plah Duk Foo. The word yam in Thai means salad, the word duk refers to a type of fish, while fu and doo mean fluffy.  Sometimes this dish is simply called yam pla fu, but whatever the name, it is just as crunchy delicious.

Because it requires quite a bit of preparation, this culinary delight is not as readily available as it should be in Thai restaurants outside of Thailand. That is truly unfortunate because yam plah duh foo is definitely worth the effort expended to create it.

A Melange of Flavors

CNN’s travel section once put out a list of 40 Thai Foods We Can’t Live Without and firmly entrenched yam plah duk foo as the 26th. The article says, “A precious favorite among Thais is a prized yam plah duk foo. At first, it seems to be a deep fried fluffy catfish essence of grease and air. However, when the sour mango, sweet sugar, tart lime, harsh red onions, earthy cilantro, shrimp, squid and peanut sauce are applied, the fluff transforms into a crunchy bite that includes all Thai flavors and textures in a single bite.”

This is what Leela Punyaratabandhu says about yam plah duk foo in She Simmers’  “Thai Crispy Fish with Green Mango Salad – Yam Pla-Duk Fu (ยำปลาดุกฟู): In Memory of the Pla Called Duk”: “This unique salad is one of those things that make me go, “Man, this is why I love Thai food!” The combination of a crispy, airy nest of fish meat and a tart, sweet salad of fresh green mango just cannot be beat. There are so many textures and flavors going on; yet they all work together so beautifully you can’t help but thinking that whoever first thought this up sure was bright. Beer drinkers nationwide would probably want to have that person sainted also, for this Thai crispy fish with green mango salad has got to be one of the most loved classic “drinking foods” of all time…”

Creating Yam Plah Duk Foo in Your Kitchen

Traditionally, cooks use catfish as the main ingredient of yam plah duk foo. The catfish is roasted or grilled whole, its flesh is flaked, and then both the carcass and the flakes are deep fried to a beautiful golden brown. That is the more difficult part of creating this dish in your kitchen.

Yam Plah Duk Foo is not complete without the accompanying mango salad. This is where you get the fusion of flavors – sweet, salty, hot, and sour – that elevates the dish to an amazing creation.

Leela Punyaratabandhu  gives a minimalist version of mango salad: “…Peel and grate a good green mango and toss it with some thinly-sliced shallots (1 part shallot:3 parts mango ratio works for me). Add some fresh lime juice to taste. (Exact measurement cannot be prescribed, because the acidity levels of various types of green mango vary greatly. The more sour the mango, the less lime juice needed.) Then some fish sauce. A tiny pinch of sugar is good too, especially if you’re dealing with a very tart green mango. Some sliced fresh bird’s eye chillis go in and you’re all set…

“…To make it more interesting, you can throw in some dried shrimp and roasted peanuts.  Cilantro leaves would be nice, but not an absolute must for me…

When you’re done with the fish and the salad, you need to plate everything the way the Thais do. (The Thais are masters in food presentation; you only need to see their beautifully carved fruits to realize this.)

On a bed of lettuce, lay out the deep fried carcass and pile the flakes where the flesh would have been, leaving the tail and the head to peep through. Most restaurants today will prepare a single serving plate of yam plah duk foo with the salad served on top of the fish, but another way would be to serve the salad on a separate container. This way, the fish flakes remain unsaturated by the dressing, and their crunch is preserved.

The Good News

Punyaratabandhu  gives her readers some really good news about this dish; “Yam Pla Duk Fu is also a great party dish not only because your guests will go nuts over it, but also because the crispy fish part can be prepared in advance, frozen or refrigerated, then popped into the oven to be re-crisped just before serving. Come serving time, all you have to do is make the green mango salad to go on top of the crispy fish…”

This dish is served with steamed rice, and it is very good with beer. Serve it as a relatively light main dish and listen to the “ooh’s” and “aah’s” as your guests take their first crunchy bite.

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