The name of this dish, yam naang faa yiiam haawng (ยำนางฟ้าเยี่ยมห้อง), translates to ‘Angel Visiting the Chamber Salad’ in English. This celestial salad, which originated in the 1920s, is a playful chili jam-based salad that combines the textural gradients of pomelo, with its citrusy bursts, chewy cooked pork skin, and the sweet and slightly resilient cooked shrimp meat. The pomelo’s citrusy notes are further amplified with thinly sliced lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves sliced into hair-thin juliennes. I like to adjust the sourness and sweetness of the chili jam-based dressing based on the acidity of the pomelo. As our aim is to achieve a final sour-salty and sweet flavor profile, a sour-salty dressing is suggested if the pomelo is sweet, while a salty-sweet dressing pairs better with a sour pomelo.
Historically, during the reigns of King Rama VI and VII, Siamese dishes often carried alluring and poetic names to tempt diners. During this era, which led up to the Siamese revolution of 1932, cooks began exercising their artistic liberties; this was a result of a growing awareness of their creative freedom – an awareness fueled by the fact that education became accessible to all classes. Moreover, numerous magazines and books were providing culinary knowledge to the households of the newly forming middle-class, encouraging progressive culinary creations.
One of these publications was the weekly entertainment magazine “Saranukun” (สารานุกูล). Starting in 1925, the magazine was printed every Saturday and featured a food column titled “Weekly Meal (กับข้าวประจำสัปดาห์)”, written by ‘Maae Ohp (แม่อภ)’. The column covered a variety of savory and sweet recipes which were later, in 1927, bound and published as a cookbook titled Gap Khaao Maae Ohp (กับข้าวแม่อภ), for the funeral of Ms. Suwanpakdee (นางสุวรรณภักตี) (ตาดดิษยบุตร์).
It is interesting to note, that the editor of Saranukun magazine was Colonel Luang Saranupraphan (aka Nuan Pachinphayak) (หลวงวสารานุประพันธ์), the secretary to the defense minister. Colonel Luang also wrote the lyrics of the Thai national anthem during the country’s transition from Siam to Thailand in 1939, and authored a number of novels, including Ghost Face (หน้าผี), Black Silk (ไหมดำ), and Rasputin, Ambassador of Time (ราสปูติน, ทูตแห่งเวลา). In addition, he translated the Sherlock Holmes series into Thai.
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To prepare the pork skin:
- 1 cup pomelo (ส้มโอ)
- 1/4 cup shrimp (กุ้ง)
- 1/4 cup pork skin (หนังหมู)
For the salad:
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass (ตะไคร้) sliced thinly
- 1 tablespoon kaffir lime leaves (ใบมะกรูด) sliced into hair-thin juliennes
- 2 parts chili jam (น้ำพริกเผา)
- 1 part fish sauce (น้ำปลา)
- 1 part lime juice (น้ำมะนาว)
- 1/2 part palm sugar (น้ำตาลมะพร้าว)
Prepare the pomelo:
- Separate the pomelo into small equal-sized pieces. Set aside.
Prepare the pork skin
- Start by scraping the pork skin with a knife to remove any remaining hairs. Then, rub it with salt and boil it in water. Once cooked, slice the pork skin into thin pieces and immerse them in an acidic solution made from lime juice, salt and water; this acidic bath eliminates the stickiness of the pork skin. After this process, rinse the pork skin pieces and set them aside for later use. The entire process is described here.
- Wash and set aside.
Prepare the shrimp:
- Peel and cut the shrimp into bite-size pieces.
- Cook the shrimp in a small amount of liquid such as water or broth (ruaan รวน). When the shrimp are cooked, discard the cooking liquid and set aside the shrimp.
Prepare the seasoning
- Re-season the chili jam with 1 part fish sauce, 1 part lime juice, and a 1/2 part palm sugar to a sour-salty-sweet flavor profile. If the pomelo is sweet, reducing the sugar and seasoning to a sour-salty dressing is suggested. If the pomelo is sour, season the chili jam to salty-sweet by reducing the amount of lime juice. Aim to achieve a final salad flavor profile of sour-salty and sweet.
Assemble the salad
- In a mixing bowl, add the pomelo and the shrimp meat and mix with the cooked pork skin.
- Add the thinly sliced lemongrass and the julienned kaffir lime leaves; mix them into the salad, and reserve some of both for garnish.
- Season with the chili jam dressing, tossing very gently.
- To serve, pour some of the dressings onto a plate and place the pomelo mixture atop the dressing. Drizzle the extra dressing on the pomelo mixture.
- Garnish with the reserved thinly sliced lemongrass and the julienned kaffir lime leaves.