The Papaya Salad, or Som Tam, can be prepared in many different ways. You can find it with dried shrimps or fermented rice field crabs but here, in Koh Samui, we love to use the fresh blue crabs we find in abundance along our coasts.
Quantities are given for 1 mortar (serves 1 as a main course or 2 as a starter)
1 fresh blue crab (about 350 g)
½ tablespoon coconut sugar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 garlic cloves 1 fresh red bird's eye chilli (for a medium spicy salad)
1 snake bean (30 g), cut into 3 cm lengths
125 g green papaya & 50 g carrot, finely shredded 4 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
25 g cashew nuts, unsalted, dry roasted
Prepare the crab:
Twist off the claws and legs. Reserve the claws.
Cut the legs lengthwise with scissors (blue crabs have very soft legs). Remove the flesh. Set aside. Place your fingers between the gap where the body meets the shell and pull upwards to separate the body from the shell. Reserve the shell. Pull away the feathery gills. Use a large knife to quarter the body and, with a lobster pick or skewer, remove the flesh out of the cavities. Set aside.
Marinate crab meat and claws in sugar, fish sauce and lime.
Prepare the salad:
Use a wooden pestle and clay mortar to pound garlic and chilli.
Add the beans and pound to soften. Add crab flesh and its marinade to the mixture (don't add claws and upper shell). Lightly pound together for another minute.
Add papaya and carrot then pound softly. Using a spoon, scrape down the sides, turning and mixing well.
Add tomatoes and lightly pound for another minute. As the juice comes out, pound more gently so the liquid doesn’t splash. Taste and adjust the seasoning (sweet and sour with a hot taste).
Spoon the papaya salad and all the juices on to a serving plate. Place the nuts, crab shell and claws on top of the salad. Serve immediately.
Variant: steam the crab meat for 2 minutes. No need to marinate.