Within the past seven days, I’ve made this salad twice. It’s that good. The first time was the day after Thanksgiving at my parents’ house. When I arrived, I notice in their entryway a basket full of oroblancos, a type of sweet grapefruit with a short season. My brother Dan brought them from Visalia, a town in California’s agriculturally-rich Central Valley.
Dan’s a pharmacist and locals regularly gift him freshly picked fruit from their nearby orchards. He started peeling some and handed me one of the segments. It was delicately sweet with very little, if not any, bitterness. I broke off a portion of the segment and noticed that it easily came apart into little globules (technically known as juice vesicles).
Shazam! The mildly sweet vesicles were a major find. The very old-school Vietnamese approach to making pomelo salad (goi buoi) is to peel the fruit to reveal their naked segments (supremes) and then patiently separating them into vesicles. I’d only had such a labor-intensive version in Vietnam at a high-end Hue restaurant. The portion was tiny because perfect vesicles are hard to come by. The oroblanco was easier to deal with, much better than what I’d experienced with a pomelo salad recipe in the past.
Since the vesicles were very doable with the oroblanco (oro blanco means “white gold”), I decided to add a magnificent goi buoi to our family’s dinner menu. Goi salads are special event salads that take time to prep all the ingredients. It wasn’t as hard as it seems because after I got the hang of revealing the grapefruit supremes, separating them into vesicles was a meditative cinch.
Along with the featured produce (grapefruit and other veggies in this case), there’s usually two kinds of proteins (my mom had shrimp and chicken breast around for me to prep); lots of herbs (I sent my sister Yenchi to harvest mint from the garden and asked my nephew Colin to tear up the mint leaves); chopped nuts (my dad was put to the task of using the nut grinder/chopper); and a tangy dressing (Mom got limes from their tree).
Inspired to have extra fun, my mom suggested frying up shrimp chips (banh phong tom) to scoop up the salad. It’s a great way to present traditional Viet salads and we hadn’t fried some up in years to eat with our salads. Before serving, another sister, Linh, dressed and plated the salad while I took care of other dishes. A lot of people took part in making the salad which make the holiday dinner more special. What we made as a family was a truly Vietnamese-American Thanksgiving salad.
I prepped four batches of the salad and it was all eaten up by our group of fifteen! Our ages ranged from sixteen to eighty-six, so I think the oroblanco salad was a hit.
It was a whirlwind day of cooking and eating and I wanted to make another batch for myself. I took an oroblanco home with me and made this salad recipe up for you to use. You don’t need the fried shallots but if you have fried onions leftover from Thanksgiving (Trader Joe’s is one of my favorite brands), throw some into the mix. For less fuss, I also opted for only one protein – shrimp. I skipped frying the shrimp chips since I was cooking on a weeknight, too.
Oroblanco season lasts from September through December. You can always substitute a pomelo and treat it like you would in this recipe I wrote up years ago.
Oroblanco Grapefruit Salad (Goi Buoi)
Yield 4 servings
To use chicken breast instead of shrimp, bring the pot of lightly salted water to a boil, add a 5-ounce chicken breast, and when bubbles form at the rim, turn off the heat. Cover and let sit for 20 to 22 minutes to cook the flesh. Remove and when cool enough to handle, tear the chicken along its natural grain into thin shreds that will mix well with other ingredients.
If you want to use pomelo, you'll want about 1 cup of vesicles total for this recipe. You can also use this Vietnamese pomelo salad recipe.
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 8 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 1 medium oroblanco grapefruit
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 3/4 to 1 teaspoon chile garlic sauce, homemade or storebought
- 2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely grated carrot (use the largest hole on a box grater)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup thinly sliced red and/or green cabbage
- 1/3 cup chopped or hand-torn mint leaves
- 1/4 cup chopped unsalted, roasted peanuts
- 2 tablespoons purchased fried onions or homemade Crispy Caramelized Shallot (hanh phi, optional)
- 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.
- Cut the shrimp in the diagonal into large pieces that will blend well with the grapefruit and other ingredients. Set aside.
- Peel the oroblanco, separate in half. Working on one segment at a time, use a paring knife to help you remove the skin to reveal the supreme. When done with the entire grapefruit, separate each supreme into its vesicles (they’ll come apart as singles or small clusters). Let your fingertips do the separation and allow the vesicles drop into a bowl as you work. Cover and refrigerate up to 4 hours, if not using right away.
- For the dressing, combine fish sauce, lime juice, water, sugar, garlic and chile in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve the sugar.
- Right before serving, add the shrimp, carrot, cabbage, mint, peanuts and fried onions (or shallot) to the grapefruit. Gently toss with your fingers. Add the dressing and gently combine. Taste and adjust the flavors, as needed. Transfer to a plate or shallow bowl, leaving any liquid behind and serve.
Courses lunch, dinner