Unripened green mangoes are one of the most common things you will see sold in Thailand. They vary in taste and texture depending on the time they are harvested but are usually sour and crunchy. They are used widely in Som Tam as a substitute for papaya and their face mangling sourness lends them favourably towards the spicy, salty flavours used here.
If you were to make this at home and can’t find unripe mango, I suggest using carrots, squash, hard cucumber, or generally anything crunchy.
One of the best things I’ve learned in preparing this is how they are cut to give the optimum size and texture for the salad.
As you can see in the pictures, you take a knife and thwack it in a uniform direction, this creates the long thin strands across the length of the fruit. Then you shave the mango away from you into a bowl (If we were doing this properly we would use a big pestle, but I’m yet to purchase one) and repeat until you are left with the mango stone.
I always just assumed you could grate the fruit to get the same results but you really need the thickness to create that desirable crunch.
Next we added fresh red onions, celery leaves, coriander, fish sauce, chilli flakes, sugar, and last but not least, roasted rice powder. This is one of the surprise ingredients that puzzled me for so long in Thailand. There was a strange grainy substance in my chilli sauce that added a weird smokey flavour and a glutinous thickness that I just couldnt work out. I’ve never seen it on sale in the UK but it is easily made by roasting or dry frying rice until golden brown, then ground up with a pestle and mortar. It is especially used in combination with grilled meats.
The hardest thing about using these mangoes is there varying degrees of sourness. As everything has to be in perfect balance, you can’t use the same amount of chilli and sugar for one that you can for another. There is a constant intuition required with making this food that needs testing at all stages, its hard to learn how much fish sauce is right, cos that stuff can be strong. I guess less is always more.
One of the biggest perks of being by the sea is that we managed to buy two of these amazingly blue crabs from the market for 80 baht each. That is about £1.50 a crab. Before I would have been so excited to boil the crabs for a few minutes and spend an hour or so slowly devouring them. I’m not sure why it amazed me so much, but here they regularly just eat them raw, so that’s what we did.
Ree went about dissecting them, disassembling the creatures into smaller pieces and scooping the white meat into the salad.
Unlike a cooked crab, the meat doesn’t pull out so easily but the freshness is just insane. Ideally, still cold, the juices are salty and sweet, and the meat is soft and creamy with just a slight resistance in the bite that assures you of its meatiness.
With no crab crackers at hand the only way to eat the legs is to pop them in your mouth and squeeze the meat out using your teeth.
The crab and mango is an awesome combination. Fresh fish loves sourness. To me, crab will always be one of my favourite things to eat because it is slow. It is satisfying to have to work for your food, maybe some sort of caveman connection is triggered, the same way ripping chicken wings with hands and teeth is more satisfying than a knife cut breast.