Why It Works
- Shallow-frying eggs in hot oil gives the whites a crispy, lacy texture around the edges, while keeping the yolks soft and runny.
- When cut into, the fat from the egg yolks melds with the dressing, lending it body and also balancing its acidic, savory punch.
- Giving the sliced aromatics and herbs time to marry with the dressing while frying the eggs tempers their raw bite without sacrificing their crisp texture and fresh aromas.
A salad is an essential component of almost any multi-dish Thai meal. Usually served alongside relishes, curries or soups, a few sides, and jasmine or sticky rice, a Thai salad typically consists of a protein, vegetable, or fruit (or a combination) tossed with fresh herbs and a dressing. One simple yet delicious example is yam khai dao: Fried eggs are combined with spicy and fruity chilies, sliced raw shallots and garlic, and fresh herbs, all of it tossed with a sour and salty dressing that marries perfectly with the fattiness from the egg yolks.
In this version of the dish, which is inspired by one served at the restaurant Soei in Bangkok, the eggs are cooked in an ample amount of very hot oil until the edges are crisp and bubbly but the yolks remain runny, so that, when broken, they mix with the bright dressing. I also add thinly sliced raw lemongrass, which is not often found in yam khai dao but is common in many Thai salads; its tender-crisp texture and floral aromatic qualities complement the salad’s other components.
Yam khai dao is a wonderful introduction to the flavor combinations and techniques used in the many types of salads that exist in Thai cuisine. This version attempts to honor the way the dish has traditionally been made even as it embraces a little innovation, which is consistent with my approach to Thai food: to learn as much about the history of the dish and the influence of the past as possible, while also paying close attention to the present and how today’s Thai chefs and home cooks have continued to evolve their cuisine. In keeping with that spirit, I should note that you’ll also often find a version of the dish that is rather different, with eggs that are fried until well done, cut into pieces, and mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, white onion, and Chinese celery.
- For the Dressing and Fresh Aromatics:
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) fresh lime juice from 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons (15g) palm sugar, softened (see note)
- 1 small shallot (15g), thinly sliced (see note)
- 1 medium garlic clove (5g), thinly sliced
- 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom 4 to 5 inches only, outer leaves discarded, tender core thinly sliced into rounds (about 10g sliced lemongrass)
- 2 to 4 fresh Thai chiles (2 to 4g total), stemmed and thinly sliced into rounds (see note)
- 3 sprigs cilantro including stems (5g), cut into 1/2-inch pieces, plus extra leaves for garnish
- 1 scallion, green part only, sliced into 1/8-inch-thick rings (about 5g)
- For the Fried Eggs:
- 2 large eggs
- 5 tablespoons (75ml) vegetable oil (see note)
- For Serving:
- Cooked jasmine rice
For the Dressing and Fresh Aromatics: In a small mixing bowl, stir together lime juice, fish sauce, and palm sugar until palm sugar is fully dissolved, about 15 seconds.
Add shallot, garlic, lemongrass, Thai chiles, cilantro sprigs, and scallion to dressing. Gently stir to combine and evenly coat solids with dressing. Set aside.
For the Fried Eggs: Line a plate or small tray with paper towels. Crack eggs into a small, shallow bowl. In a wok or 8-inch carbon steel or cast iron skillet, heat oil over high heat until it just begins to smoke. Holding the bowl closely above the oil, carefully slip the eggs into the oil in one swift and smooth motion to prevent oil from splattering; the egg whites should immediately puff and bubble around the edges. Cook undisturbed for 20 seconds, then begin swirling the pan to prevent eggs from sticking. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly to promote even cooking of the whites, until the inner part of the whites close to the yolks are fully set, and the edges are wispy, golden brown, and crisp, about 1 minute. Using a large spoon or wok spatula, baste the yolks 2 to 4 times with hot oil until they just turn opaque and look like yolks on American-style, over-easy fried eggs. Using a slotted or wok spatula, carefully lift eggs out of oil, draining off as much excess oil as possible, and transfer to prepared paper towel–lined plate.
For Serving: Gently transfer fried eggs to a serving plate. Spoon the aromatics, herbs and dressing over the eggs, and garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with cooked jasmine rice on the side.
Palm sugar can be found in Thai markets, as well as some nation-wide supermarkets like HMart, and also online. At room temperature, palm sugar is a solid mass and needs to be softened so that it can be incorporated into the dressing. You can soften palm sugar in the following ways: microwave at full power in a microwave-safe bowl for approximately 15 seconds; combine with the fish sauce in the recipe in a small saucepan and warm over low heat until dissolved; or pound in a mortar and pestle, gradually adding lime juice and fish sauce until palm sugar dissolves. If you can't find palm sugar, you can substitute with 1 teaspoon (4g) white sugar.
If possible, use smaller, round Thai shallots for this recipe. As with onions, make sure to slice shallots pole-to-pole to minimize cell wall damage and consequent pungent allium aroma.
Adjust the amount of Thai chiles in the salad to your personal taste.
For frying the eggs, it is important to use enough oil to properly shallow fry them, which is dependent on the size of your chosen cooking vessel. 5 tablespoons (75ml) of oil is sufficient when cooking in a wok or 8-inch carbon steel or cast iron skillet. If using a 10-inch skillet, increase oil amount to 6 tablespoons (90ml) and proceed with recipe instructions as written. Leftover oil can be saved for future egg-frying; allow to cool, strain through a fine mesh strainer, and refrigerate in an airtight container.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Yam khai dao is best enjoyed immediately.