Vietnamese green papaya salad comes in two guises and one of them features earthy beef jerky and heady Thai basil (hung que). The other version of green papaya salad is southern Viet and has shrimp, pork and rau ram herb; the recipe is in Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. A northern Viet favorite, green papaya salad made with beef jerky includes slivers of smoked liver and on occasion, lung too. In Hanoi's Old Quarter, I recall a little street full of green papaya salad vendors. I’ve never had the lung in salads in the U.S. Both the jerky and liver are a tad chewy, the liver adding a slight minerally quality to the salad. It’s no great shakes. If you lived in Little Saigon, you’d go to the Vietnamese-Chinese jerky store for the beef and the liver. Or you make beef jerky at home, like I did last week. In my kitchen, I omit the liver and the salad is just fine.
To dress Vietnamese green papaya salad, you have two options. One is a fish sauce and lime dressing. The other features soy sauce and vinegar. The former yields a salad that is lighter in taste and appearance that the latter. At places like the Asian Garden Mall food court in Orange County’s Little Saigon, it’s common to see the soy dressing. If you watched the movie, Scent of Green Papaya, the dressing is the fish sauce one. Regardless of your dressing, you can serve the salad pre-dressed or with the dressing on the side. Because the soy dressing turns the pale celadon green papaya a sad brown color, I like to let guests dress their own salad. The recipe below employs the soy sauce dressing.
Vietnamese Green Papaya Salad with Beef Jerky
Goi Du Du Bo Kho
An important part of this salad is to have the papaya crunchy, and Viet cooks can soak the shredded papaya in a slaked lime-and-water solution. I prefer the old fashioned method of squeezing on the shreds, which renders the papaya dryish so that once the dressing is poured on, the papaya soaks up all the flavors like a sponge. See tips for buying and using green papaya if you're not familiar with the Southeast Asian ingredient.
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons regular (light) soy sauce
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons Sriracha hot chili sauce, or 1 or 2 Thai or serrano chiles, finely chopped
1 green papaya, about 2 pounds
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 ounces homemade Vietnamese beef jerky or Asian-style beef jerky, cut into strips with scissors to match papaya pieces (about 1 cup total)
1/4 cup shredded fresh Thai basil leaves
1. To make either dress dressing, in a small bowl, stir together all of the ingredients, stirring until the sugar dissolves. If guests are chile heat sensitive, leave the Sriracha out and serve some on the side. Set the dressing aside to develop the flavors.
2. Peel the papaya with a vegetable peeler and then cut off the stem. Halve the papaya lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut each half lengthwise into quarters, and then use a knife (or grapefruit knife or melon baller) to remove the thin white layer lining the cavity. Using a Japanese Benriner slicer or a food processor fitted with the largest shredder blade, shred the papaya pieces. Aim for thin strands about 1/16 inch thick, no more than 3/16 inch wide, and 2 1/2 to 3 inches long (about the size of the shredded mozzarella you put on a pizza).
3. Put the shredded papaya in a colander, add the sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and use both hands to massage the sugar and salt vigorously into the papaya. After a few minutes, the papaya will be a little slimy and limp yet still firm. At that point, rinse it under lots of cold running water to remove the salt and sugar.
4. Working in batches, wring out excess moisture from the papaya in a nonterry dish towel: position a mound of the papaya in the center, roll it up in the towel, and then twist the ends in opposite directions to force out the liquid. Do this 3 or 4 times. You want to extract enough water from the papaya yet not completely crush it. Transfer the papaya to a large bowl and fluff it up to release it from its cramped state.
5. Just before serving, add the beef jerky and Thai basil to the green papaya and toss to distribute evenly. At home, I normally pour on about 3/4 of the dressing, toss and taste, adding more dressing as needed. Or, serve the dressing on the side and invite guests to dress their own salad.