Phlah kung (พล่ากุ้ง), Thai shrimp salad

Phlah kung (พล่ากุ้ง) was a fortuitous dish. There was some lemongrass left over from an earlier meal, and so in an earnest attempt to prevent food wastage, I flipped through Chef McDang’s book—now my trusted cooking bible—for some inspiration. I decided upon phlah kung because the recipe looked simple enough, never mind that I hadn’t eaten it before. (While not an obscure Thai dish, phlah kung is also not that common in local restaurants.)

I put naam phrik phao, fish sauce, lime juice and chillies together, blending them into a thick paste for the dressing. I asked Mr. P to sample the dressing to ensure I’d gotten the taste correct but he refused, preferring to trust my skills and intuition (well, I don’t). But he was eager to help me in other ways, by first doing a thorough job of deveining the shrimps and then blanching them in boiling water.

With the shrimps cooked and dressing done, the next step was the presentation. I arranged them in a circle, tails pointing inward. Then I added lemongrass, kaffir leaves, chillies and coriander leaves on top, before drizzling some dressing over the entire dish. Done!

Next up, dish tasting. Mr. P picked a shrimp up with his fork and put it into his mouth. I eagerly awaited his response. “Hmm, aroooooi.” The dressing, which I thought tasted a notch too sharp and intense on its own, complemented the sweet, tender flesh of the shrimps very well. I beamed.

“Make phlah kung again next weekend,” Mr. P urged.

“Well, McDang’s recipes can definitely be trusted. I followed his directions,” I said, but secretly happy my hubby took to this dish so much.

And when the following weekend came, I happily obliged Mr. P’s request. The Isaan boy was once again involved with cleaning the shrimps, and he also guided me on how to slice the lemongrass stalks and kaffir leaves swiftly and finely. (He showed me a quick, effective way to julienne kaffir leaves, which he picked up by observing deft cooks at work. To be shared in another post on another day.)

Meanwhile, we’re getting a kick with our phlah kung!

PHLAH KUNG | พล่ากุ้ง
(Inspired by Chef McDang)
Serves 2-3

Salad dressing
* 1 tbsp roasted chilli paste (naam phrik phao)
* 2 tbsps fish sauce
* 1 lime
* 5 chillies, sliced

Salad ingredients
* 10-12 shrimps, peeled, deveined and blanched
* 1/4 cup lemongrass, sliced finely
* 1/4 cup shallots, sliced finely
* 1/4 kaffir leaves, julienned finely
* 1/4 cup mint leaves (optional; for garnishing)

Method
1. Prepare the salad dressing by combining all the ingredients together. Mix and blend until a thick paste with smooth consistency is achieved.
2. In a salad bowl, mix the dressing with the blanched shrimps and vegetables, then serve onto a plate with a few mint leaves as garnish. OR On a plate, arrange the blanched shrimps in any way desired, then toss in the vegetables and drizzle the dressing on top, before adding the mint leaves as garnish.
3. Serve and enjoy!

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