I love me some cold mayo-based lobster salad, but I'll take this lighter, brighter, hotter, altogether-more-exciting version based on Thai flavors any day. Made with sweet, tender chunks of picked lobster meat, crisp blanched snap peas, cucumbers (salted to draw out some of their excess liquid and intensify their mild flavor), it gets off to a good start, but it's really the aromatics and condiments that set this dish apart.
First off, there's the herbs. I like the sweetness and grassy aroma of Thai basil (more aromatic than its Italian counterpart, though Italian basil will do in a pinch) paired with cilantro's unique, soap-like flavor (and I mean soap-like in a good way). A handful of mint wouldn't hurt, either.
Ultra-thin sliced shallots work their way through the mix, adding more sweetness and a bit of their sharp aroma. Thai shallots tend to be much smaller and milder than their large Western counterparts, so if your shallots are particularly pungent, a quick rinse in warm water will help tame their bite.
In a few early iterations of this dish, I found the lobster flavor to be overwhelmed by all the other powerful stuff going on. At first, I attempted to remedy this problem by simmering the shucked shells in water to make a quick stock, then reducing it down to a mere tablespoon or two to add to the dressing. It worked, but it was a pain in the butt and took this recipe from a 15-minute flash in the pan to a full hour of simmering.
The solution? Dried shrimp.
The salty little umami bombs add a brininess to the mix that doesn't taste distinctly shrimpy per se, but instead accents the briny shellfish character of the lobster.
Finally, it's the dressing—a sauce somewhere between a Thai Sweet Chili Sauce and a Vietnamese nước chấm—that gives the salad its character. Blazing hot Thai bird chilies, garlic, palm sugar (brown or even white sugar will do in its place), and lime juice get mixed with just enough fish sauce to give it a savory, pungent kick.
Sour, sweet, spicy, hot, and loaded with umami, you'll want to put this sauce on everything. Seriously.*
*Word of advice: dip your grilled chicken in it.
I know I'm still forgetting something here.
Oh, right. Crunch. Pine nuts. Pine nuts add that delicious, nutty crunch.
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About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.