Thai-Spiced Lobster "Waldorf" Salad
Updated: Dec 12, 2021
"What is a Waldorf anyway? A walnut that's gone 'orf?"
Basil Fawlty (1979)
Genuinely, that another lobster dish with Thai flavours should follow so soon after my offering of "Lobster in Thai Yellow Curry", is a coincidence.
In fact, what happened was, for whatever reason, it occurred to me that lobster may have a part to play in what might otherwise be a Waldorf Salad. Perhaps the affinity it has with celery, tart apples and, above all else, its enduring partner in mayonnaise (see "Lobster, Cucumber and Apple Salad", for example). Needless to say I was not the first to be thinking along these lines and, after a bit of looking around, a recipe that caught my attention was one by Mary Edwards that turns out to have been awarded third place in a competition, held by the Waldorf Astoria hotel in conjunction with California Walnuts, to "refresh" the classic Waldorf Salad.
Ordinarily this is the sort of dish, were I to find it on a restaurant menu, I would likely shy away from, it being both an example of the 'fusion' style of cookery that I am confessedly suspicious of for the abominations that result from the over-adventurous hand, and one that dares to experiment with the classics that have stood the test of time. But I have to say I do really like this dish and I say that having made it a few times.
The recipe is made up of a number of different elements of which some are excellent in their own right. For one thing the roasted sweet chilli sauce coated walnuts make on their own a delightful nibble. Sweet chilli sauces vary in their piquancy but for extra heat a judicious addition of a fiery sauce, such as Sriracha can be used to get to the right point.
Second, where lobster is always comfortable wearing a coat of mayonnaise, it is also very much at ease in the company of spice. When I first read in this recipe that the mayonnaise was to be spiced with a Thai red curry paste I took the time to see what experts of the classics might make of such an idea. Finding that Michel Roux saw it fit to include "Curry Mayonnaise" in his bible "Sauces: Savoury & Sweet", any concerns I may have had were abated, and I'm now happy to say that, even if not making this dish in its entirety, a Thai red curry flavoured mayonnaise is in itself a super accompaniment to lobster.
This is a dish that fits nicely into the late summer into autumn season when apples are in plentiful supply and lobster prices, although dearer than their summer low are nowhere near their winter high. The original recipe did not include grapes (and having read the writings of the likes of Simon Hopkinson and Felicity Cloake I am confident there is some room for manoeuvre on the exact composition of a Waldorf Salad) but I simply had to include them having etched in my brain the demands of the American guest in that famous Fawlty Towers episode: "Celery, apples, walnuts, grapes!".
It may seem that this recipe involves a lot of ingredients but they are grouped into several simple stages, some of which can be prepared in advance. Steps 1 and 2 can be done the day before.
Bought Thai red curry paste is absolutely fine - the more uninterpretable the label on the jar the better it is likely to be. If making the mayonnaise fresh it's worth resisting the temptation to use too much olive oil in the oil mixture. Groundnut oil is ideal, possibly in combination with a little (non-virgin) olive oil.
Although Thai "Holy" basil is widely available, an equally enjoyable alternative is a mix of regular basil and mint - I have tried it. When it comes to the lettuce I think a softer variety is probably best: Butterhead or Batavia for example, but I have also tried this recipe using a crunchier variety like Cos or Romaine and I enjoyed the dish just as much.
I do think the final garnish of snipped chives is as pleasing in its flavour contribution as in the aesthetics but, as usual, when celery is an integral part of a dish I'm always minded to accentuate its presence with some celery leaves - or dare I make another scratch in my record and suggest lovage leaves?
Thai-Spiced Lobster "Waldorf" Salad
Ingredients (Serves 2)
150g picked lobster meat, or the meat from a 650-700g lobster
1 tbsp Thai red curry paste
150ml coconut milk
40g celery sticks (from the heart), sliced 1cm thick
40g tart apple (Granny Smiths are ideal), cut into 2cm dice
Handful of Holy basil (or a handful of a mix of basil and mint leaves), freshly torn
Soft lettuce leaves, to serve
Snipped chives, to garnish (optional)
For the chilli-coated roasted walnuts:
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce
1 tbsp hot chilli sauce (optional, if a more fiery result is desired)
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp coarse sea salt
15-20 walnut halves (any more than necessary can be eaten separately, see recipe intro)
For the Thai curry mayonnaise:
2½ tbsp mayonnaise (best quality, ideally homemade)
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp lime juice
For the dressing:
2 tbsp walnut oil
1 tsp lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In a saucepan, stir together the Thai red curry paste and the coconut milk over a medium heat. Just before it comes to the boil add the lobster meat and remove from the heat. Leave to infuse for anything from 1 hour to overnight (though if keeping overnight, cover and refrigerate once cool).
For the chilli-coated roasted walnuts, first pre-heat the oven to 180°C. Mix together the sweet chilli sauce (and hot chilli sauce, if using) with the sugar and salt and coat the walnut halves in the mixture. Spread them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for anything from 10-20 mins until golden and crispy but checking every 3-4 mins as they can burn suddenly and quickly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool and, if not using imminently, store in an airtight container where they will keep for a few days.
Lift the lobster pieces from the marinade (reserving the remaining marinade) and rinse to remove the marinade clinging to the lobster (this is not essential but preserves the appearance of the lobster and also helps to control the intensity of the flavours in the final dish). Pat the lobster pieces dry with kitchen paper.
In a bowl combine the mayonnaise, fish sauce, lime juice along with 2 tsp of the lobster marinade. Mix in the celery, apple and most of the chilli-coated roasted walnuts, broken a little if preferred.
In another bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients, and gently toss the basil, mint and lettuce leaves in it. Arrange the leaves on serving plates.
Top the plated salad leaves with the ingredients in the mayonnaise sauce, leaving a little of the sauce behind. Gently coat the lobster pieces in the mayonnaise sauce and arrange decoratively over the two serving plates. Finally, scatter over the snipped chives (if using) and serve.
"Sauces: Savoury & Sweet", Michel Roux (2009), page TBC: https://www.amazon.com/Sauces-Savoury-Sweet-roux-michel/dp/1844006972