Feast. Yum Woon Sen Shrimp salad.
Food hopping alone is highly difficult in New York. The key to doing it (or not doing it at all) is to pace. Pace, pace, pace. Pick snacky items over full entrees. This means you’ll be ordering a hefty amount of coffee, appetizers, and killing trees for takeout boxes. Coffee is an appetite suppressant, so use carefully. Starch takes up more room than meat. There’s always more room for dessert. Etc etc…maybe someday I’ll write a post on these tips.
Luckily for me, the entree portion at Chelsea Thai wasn’t too large (at least at first glance). The glass-noodle shrimp salad was perhaps one of the better shrimp salads I’ve had. The shrimp were plump, the flavors were crisp, and there was a spicy kick somewhere in there. The balance of the fish sauce was equally excellent and wasn’t watery at all. I recall that most people don’t particularly like Thai dishes because they sometimes have a strong fish smell, or a sour, vinegar-like taste. The former taste comes from fish sauce itself, and the latter, from some form of tamarind.
Tamarind is a fruit that grows on a tree, and when ripe, its hard, brown outer shell cracks and the user can get to the inside. There are two varieties, sweet and sour. The former is usually eaten straight or dipped in some sort of chili sauce. The sour types of tamarind are usually utilized in cooking to add that characteristic sour taste that we’re so fond of in Thai cooking.
If we want to be real technical Wiki says that the fruit is an indehiscent legume. Dehiscent structures are structures that splits at a “built in line of weakness,” which I presume helps the inner seeds or fruit disperse its seeds. So…a tamarind doesn’t have a line of weakness and just cracks open every-which-way? Does Thai food come out? Anyhow, it’s not really relevant to the task at hand. We want tamarind. We’ll get it, either through a processed package of fresh tamarind product, or we’ll break out some hammers.
We can obtain tamarind through some methods. Pre-processed methods that are not straight from the fruit usually generate stronger flavor profiles. (If you have the technology to fit 50 tamarinds on a spoon…why not?)
- Paste. I believe this is the one that is most utilized. No need for rehydrating. Squeeze or scoop like toothpaste.
- Fresh, from the fruit itself.
What really made this salad one of the best ones I’ve had was the fact that the sauce on the salad was present in a perfect sweet-tart harmony, with minimal pooling at the bottom of the container, which usually means the sauce was on my food, not making a swimming pool for my food (this usually lends itself to diluted sauce). Tamarind paste can’t just be thrown on top of the salad, but delicately balanced both flavor-wise and consistency wise. This means getting the perfect combination of tamarind paste, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce, chiles, dried shrimp and sugar. The consistency shouldn’t be as fluid as water, but shouldn’t be viscous to the point of clumping. We want a watery profile that has some “cling,” which the tamarind paste provides. Palm sugar is important in balancing the sourness and saltiness of both the fish sauce and tamarind. Even after making the perfect sauce, one has to account for the fact that some of the glass noodles would absorb the sauce, so the amount that you serve is important. The key is to taste while creating the sauce, and while saucing, mix and let rest, preferably in a large bowl so you can observe if you’re accidentally flash-flooding your meal.