It's pomelo season, and in the last week, I've made Vietnamese pomelo salad three times. How could I resist? Everywhere I shopped -- from the San Jose Tet market where I bought my potted chrysanthemums, to the Chinese grocery store, to Costco -- there were pomelos for sale. The gentle giant version of grapefruit is favored in Vietnam as a palate cleansing winter fruit, and also as the star in a special event salads like this one.
Medium pomelos are the size of a volleyball and big ones make you think of playing basketball. I search for the heaviest one in whatever size that's available because then the flesh won't be so dry. Pomelo flesh is drier than that of grapefruit so that's why the dryness is an issue.
To get to the flesh, one also removes the out skin of each segment. Cut into each segment with a knife or pair of kitchen scissors, and then use your fingers to remove the flesh and break it apart into bite size pieces. In Vietnam, a super dedicated cook would separate each piece of pomelo flesh into individual teardrop cells. I've not that kind of patience, though sometimes the pomelo flesh will naturally fall apart. It's a tedious task, but one that's great for sharing with friends. My girlfriends Michelle, Thy and I attacked a pomelo last weekend for a salad for our Tet dinner and had quality girl time in the process.
Like grapefruit, pomelo may be whitish/yellow or pink. In this salad, my California grown pomelos were all pink in color so I chose to use some finely shredded carrot for a funky/cool contrast. If yours is whitish/yellow, use a small carrot and add 1/2 thinly sliced cucumber (halve it lengthwise and seed it first)> When using carrot and cucumber, I the cut veggies with 1/4 teaspoon of each salt and sugar to make them weep their liquid, then I rinse and squeeze them dry before adding to the salad. Regardless, you'll end up with an unusual savory-tart-bitter-pungent blending of flavors that's also beautiful to look at. If you don't have time for frying the shallots, add a little more peanuts to make up for the loss of richness.
Pomelo Salad with Shrimp and Meat
Goi Buoi Tom Thit
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound large or jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 pound boneless skinless chicken breast or boneless pork chop, or ¾ to 1 cup matchstick-cut gio (Vietnamese silky sausage)
1 medium pomelo
1 carrot, peeled and cut into fine shreds
¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, leafy tops only
1/4 cup chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
1/3 cup Crispy Caramelized Shallot
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 generous teaspoon Vietnamese chile garlic sauce, homemade or storebought
1. Put the salt in a small saucepan and fill 2/3 with water. Bring to a boil and then add the shrimp. As soon as they've curled up, remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool.
2. Return the water to a boil and add the chicken or pork chop. When bubbles form at the rim, turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 20 minutes to cook the flesh. Remove and set aside to cool. (If you're using the Vietnamese sausage, skip this step because it's already cooked.)
3. Cut the shrimp in the diagonal into large pieces that will blend well with the pomelo and other ingredients. Hand shred the chicken or cut the pork into julienne. Set aside.
4. Cut off one end of the pomelo to reveal its fleshy pith. Then use your fingers and knife to remove the pith so that all that's remaining is the white covered flesh. Pry the pomelo open and split into two parts. Then use a knife, scissors and your fingers to peel away the skin from each segment and remove the flesh. Separate the flesh into bite size pieces and deposit in a bowl.
5. For the dressing, combine fish sauce, lime juice, water, sugar and chile garlic sauce in a small bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar.
6. Right before serving, add the shrimp, chicken or pork, carrot, mint, cilantro, peanuts and shallot to the pomelo. Toss with your fingers or tongs to combine well. Add the dressing and toss. Taste and adjust the flavors, as needed. Transfer to a plate, leaving any liquid behind and serve.