Gỏi bưởi (pomelo/grapefruit salad) is an unusual dish and is rarely featured on restaurant menus, but the first time we had it, we knew we wanted to do something fun with it. Traditional gỏi bưởi consists of broken pieces of supremed pomelo mixed with boiled shrimp and pork and served with a fish sauce based dressing and the usual Vietnamese salad garnish (rau răm/Vietnamese coriander, crushed roasted peanuts, fried shallots). The salad has a unique combination of the refreshing and clean sweet-tartness and fragrance of pomelo and herbs with savouriness of fish sauce, sweetness of shrimp and richness of pork belly. We wanted to start with that combination all in one bite of pomelo, then experiment with new flavors on top of that base. We had to learn several new techniques and technologies before we got the results below, which we were very happy with:
Here’s what the above tasted like:
- The flavor of gỏi bưởi inspired our efforts, and that’s what one got simply by biting into a piece of the supremed pomelo, by itself – it had been infused with an especially strong shrimp and pork stock, along with the traditional fish sauce-based dressing. (The stock needed to be concentrated to equilibrate down to the classic gỏi bưởi taste when mixed with pomelo.)
- The red paste was a sauce of sauteed shrimp tomalley and shallots. Its richness replaced and surpassed the contribution of pork while the intense flavor and fragrance added new dimensions to the salad, contasting against the mellow pomelo.
- The DNA shaped strands to the right were lightly candied pomelo peel strands. They added a slightly crunchy but tender texture while accentuating that great pomelo scent.
- The three colored bunches that look like ribbon models of proteins are strands of pomelo pith processed chè bưởi (pomelo soup dessert) style, then infused with rau răm (Vietnamese coriander), hibiscus, or thyme extract. The pith added a firm, chewy texture while hibiscus and thyme extracts complemented and added depth to the existing flavors. We did not have good results extracting rau răm flavors, but having to rely on fresh rau răm leaves was no tragedy since we love the herb.
This dish was made using a number of unconventional techniques, however it should be adaptable to kitchens less kludgy than ours. The main technical hurdle was a method for getting intense shrimp flavors for infusion; the solution required nothing more than shrimps with heads. The other techniques used were mostly related to convenience and scalability and can be circumvented:
- The pomelo was supremed using enzymes that digested away the pith and membranes of the fruit. Skillful peeling beyond our abilities could have achieved similar results, or else use traditional, broken pieces.
- The peel and pith were processed using a lazy-convenient combination of a French recipe for candied orange peel and a Vietnamese one for chè bưởi. We’re not entirely sure the process is reproducible, but we were happy with the results this time.
Method in Detail
Pomelos were scored pith-deep then peeled down to individual slices with membranes still intact. Pith and peel were set aside. Individual slices were placed in a plastic vacuum bag with enzymes and incubated for 45 minutes at 40 degrees Celsius.
After enzymatic digestion, most the pith and membrane could be rinsed or gently scrubbed away from the slice of pulps.
Meanwhile, pork bones were blanched then simmered on medium until the stock was reduced by at least half. Pork bones were then removed and shrimp heads added. Tails were reserved for other dishes – the heads were where the intense shrimp flavor was found. Some tomalley (the red stuff in the head) were set aside.
Marinade was made by adding lime juice, sugar and fish sauce to shrimp and pork bone stock. We made the marinade more concentrated than the usual salad dressing. Marinade and supremed grapefruit were placed in a vacuum bag and kept in the fridge overnight.
We cleaned the peels of remaining pith as best we could then boiled strands of pomelo peel 3 times with changes of cold water each time. We then squeezed dry the strands and sprinkled sugar on top of them. This worked very well and eliminated some tedious steps in both the French and Vietnamese recipes for candied orange peel and pomelo pith based dessert (see below), respectively.
To process the pith, we sprinkled salt on pith slices, washed them, then squeezed them dry. We repeated as necessary until bitterness was gone.
We then boiled them for 15 minutes and left them to dry overnight. We could have also coated them with tapioca powder, boiled and squeezed dry again – that would have emphasized crunchiness a bit more over chewiness. Before serving they were rehydrated in leaf extracts or strong hibiscus tea.
Next time we’ll just process the pith the same way as the peel and see what happens.
Minced shallot were sweated in oil and a bit of fish sauce, before the reserved tomalley were added. Tomalley and shallots were stir-fried quickly then removed from heat.
Pomelo sections were removed from marinade bags and plated with other prepared ingredients.
We loved the flavor of gỏi bưởi and we were ecstatic to be able to reproduce it in a single bite. We also liked the fact that we were able to use every part of the pomelo to carry flavors and texture. The intensive use also honored the sacrifice of the beautiful fruit. Finally, the tomalley sauce surprised us with how well it combined with the gỏi bưởi flavors. We now expected that intense, flavorful richness as an integral part of gỏi bưởi, rather than embellishment or garnish. It’s great when experiments work beyond expectations, isn’t it?
This is our contribution to the May Delicious Vietnam food posts round-up started by A food lover’s journey and Ravenous Couple. This month the round up is being hosted by Jing at My Fusion Kitchen. I believe we’ll be hosting the round-up next month. Looking forward to that!