Thanks to the Royal Thai Embassy, I’ve reawakened a lost appreciation for canned tuna — one of Thailand’s principal exports. But tuna didn’t take me to Thailand. A few months back, as a food journalist and guest of the government, I traveled to Bangkok and points south and saw for myself what a terrific job the Thais have done in the eco-friendly conservation of natural resources and the revitalization of mangrove forests that in years past had been devastated by fish farming. I found the tuna salad of my dreams, and far more, at Bangkok’s legendary Mandarin Oriental hotel.
As it turns out, every day at 6 p.m. staff members of the Mandarin deliver a small cocktail amenity to the hotel’s orchid-filled guest rooms, placing the nibble beside the daily tropical fruit display. One evening, this dressing drink hors d’oeuvre may be a pretty coddled egg or, perhaps, a rich duck liver pate. Another day, think sushi. To ensure that the rotating roster of 15 cocktail amenities is up to MO’s exacting standards, every four months Executive Chef Norbert Kostner gathers together his staff for a testing and tasting workshop. And that’s where hotel Chef Enrico Froehnel introduced the group to his unexpected Thai tuna salad.
One afternoon at poolside, Chef Kostner explained that “We needed something different and here we have a perfect fusion of American and Thai with refreshing flavors that explode in the mouth and then bring harmony.” Granted, there is lots of chopping involved. But Froehnel’s exceptional seafood spread, loaded with taste sensations of kaffir lime and lemon grass, is worth the effort. To start: grab a can of good tuna.
Thai Tuna Salad
Makes 1 1/2 cups
2 teaspoons finely chopped lemongrass (use only inner core)
2 teaspoons grated galangal
1 teaspoon finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped white onion
2 1/2 tablespoons diced sweet peppers (thin-skinned varieties are best)
1 teaspoon finely chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons finely chopped spring onions (green part only)
5 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice
A few drops hot sauce, such as Tabasco
A few drops Worcestershire sauce
1 pinch freshly ground pepper
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 six-ounce can tuna, drained and finely shredded
Combine all ingredients, except the shredded tuna, in a large kitchen bowl and mix until well blended. Add the shredded tuna and mix again.
For best flavor, cover and refrigerate for two hours.
Serve with melba toasts, rice crackers, or sliced baguette.
(Kaffir lime leaves and galangal — a ginger relative — are available at Asian markets.)