Yả plāh̄mụk (Spicy Cuttlefish Salad)
Updated: Apr 6
"The stream is rich in fish of excellent quality and flavour, such as is found in most of the great rivers of Asia; and is especially noted for its platoo, a kind of sardine, so abundant and cheap that it forms a common seasoning to the labourer's bowl of rice."
Anna Leonowens, "The English Governess at the Siamese Court" (1870)
For a while I've been thinking that cuttlefish would take to the "Yam" Thai salad style of dish but, to try it out, I had to wait until cuttlefish were back on the stall. That they are now. Of course it won't come as a surprise that there aren't any recipes out there easily found and I've drawn a blank so far, but I was pretty to content to base a dish off a recipe very easily found, "Yam pla-muek", or "spicy squid salad".
I've done sufficient research to satisfy myself that there is no injustice in calling this dish
"Yả plāh̄mụk" because the Thai translation of cuttlefish (if there is one), and octopus, is also"plāh̄mụk". The recipe I've based this on is one by the Hairy Bikers who, although quite evidently not wholy of Thai origin, tend to be quite faithful to the local way of going about things. However they do call their recipe "Yam pra-muek", which I haven't got to the bottom of.
There is one key way, however, where this recipe is certainly not authentic in its cooking and that is that the cuttlefish is not stir-fried. Whereas small squid will stir-fry very rapidly (and you could obviously use squid for this recipe in the winter months when they are available on the stall), cuttlefish would only do this in a wok heated to a temperature unlikely to be achieved in a domestic kitchen. I have therefore seared the cuttlefish quickly on a very hot ridged grill pan to obtain the caramelisation of the flesh rapidly while leaving the centre just cooked and still tender. I am happy to admit that I also really enjoy the flavour that is achieved through this way of cooking cuttlefish (and squid for that matter, see Calamar a la Plancha for a Spanish squid dish cooked this way) and I doubt that any Thai person would be too upset about it. I'm sure your diners won't be!
As so often with a "Yam", or a Thai salad, the recipe is more of an assembly than a recipe. In this spirit, quantities become approximate and what I have given below is just a guideline for two servings. What matters most in a salad wishing to be true to the Thai style, is that four key flavours are represented: salty, sweet, spicy and sour. All of these are captured in the dressing for this dish. Indeed, it's quite important to include the sugar in the dressing (and I am not of a sweet tooth) as it provides a counteraction to the spice of the chillies.
I think this salad is best served with the cuttlefish warm or at room temperature rather than hot, and I rather like the idea of scooping up some salad in a lettuce leaf. What is indisputable though, is that nothing could accompany it better than an ice-cold Singha beer.
Thai-Style Cuttlefish Salad
Ingredients (Serves 2)
250g cuttlefish, body in large pieces, tentacles halved lengthways
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 or 2 red or green bird's eye chillies, chopped (remove seeds to reduce heat)
1 small garlic clove, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp Thai fish sauce (or to taste)
2 tsp lime juice (or to taste)
1 tsp palm sugar, or use caster sugar (quantity to taste)
⅓ cucumber, halved lengthways, seeds removed and cut into thick slices
3 spring onions, cleaned, cut into 3 and then quartered lengthways to create shreds
A few cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of mint leaves (torn in half if large)
Handful of Thai (holy) basil leaves (torn in half if large), or regular basil leaves
Handful of chives, cut into 1" lengths
Paste the ginger using a pestle and mortar. Combine half of the ginger paste with the sesame oil and use to coat the cuttlefish as a marinade.
For the dressing, add the chillies and garlic to the mortar and crush these into the garlic. Next add the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar and blend well with the pestle. Taste and adjust the fish sauce, lime juice and sugar to taste.
In a large bowl, combine the cucumber, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, mint leaves, Thai basil leaves and chives.
Heat a ridged grill pan (or heavy-based frying pan) until very hot. Remove excess marinade from the cuttlefish and sear it for a couple of minutes on each side until it takes on a golden colour. Transfer to a chopping board then cut the body pieces into strips about 1cm wide and 4cm long. Put these in a bowl, pour over the dressing, mix well and leave to cool a little for about a minute or two.
Stir the cuttlefish and dressing into the salad, toss everything together and serve immediately.