Salted Crab Sauce - Lohn Pboo Kem หลนปูเค็ม

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salted crab sauce salted crab sauce

We love to get notes from people returning from a Thailand vacation; they often ask us about dishes you never find in US restaurants. Having discovered such a gastronomic Alice in Wonderland, many people want to recreate the dishes at home, but don’t know where to start. Lohn Pboo Kem is a dish that you will find in fancy Thai restaurants in Bangkok, in people’s homes and at street food stalls. The small bowl of creamy, salty, sweet and sour sauce is served with a large platter full of fresh local vegetables.

Lohn is a class of cooking which combines coconut milk, shallots, preserved meat, fish or seafood, balanced with sweet and sour flavors. The main ingredients, such as coconut milk, shallots and salted crabs, are readily available in Thai kitchens and blend well together. The sour flavor can come from tamarind or other native sour fruits. A hint of sweet can come from the palm sugar or a combination of sweet and sour can come from fermented sticky rice.

The popular group of dishes goes back a long time, perhaps before the introduction of the chili peppers by the Portuguese in the 15th century. The chili peppers in this dish is almost like an afterthought. If you are apathetic about spicy food, Lohn lets you dig deep into Thai food history. To taste Lohn is to experience Thai cuisine and culture before the modern imports invaded it.

The way you eat Lohn is quite elaborate. In order to taste all the flavors; each bite consists of a spoon of rice with a piece of vegetable on top and a little sauce on the vegetable. Once in a while you’ll hit the crab, chew on the it to access this super salty juice inside. The swift contrast of sweet and sour and the ultra salty crab makes a perfect bite. Each bite changes with your choice of vegetable.

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, this is the dish I would recommend you try. And when you come home, now you can recreate it to remind you of the fun time you had.

Lohn Pboo Kem

Lohn Pboo Kem หลนปูเค็ม
2-3 Servings, Prep Time: 10 Minutes, Total Time: 20 Minutes

Tips and Techniques

  • The crabs: There are 2 types of salted crabs you can get at Asian markets; whole salted crabs and salted crabs in sweet chili sauce. Both are available in the frozen section. My first choice is the whole salted crabs because there are no added sugar or seasonings. However, you’ll need to pull the crab apart into pieces and clean out the gills and claws. The other type of salted crabs that are available in my area is the salted crab in sweet chili sauce which I use for this recipe. The crabs are already gutted, cut into pieces and preserved in a sweet and spicy sauce. I rinse out the sugar and chili before using for this recipe. If you use this type of crabs, you may want to taste the sauce before adding sugar.
  • Use coconut cream instead of coconut milk to get the thick texture.
  • I use serrano peppers in this recipe. You can also use the small Thai chili peppers; use them whole for non-spicy sauce and cut them up for a super spicy sauce. Wax peppers or banana peppers will work well for a mild sauce, too.
  • Add a small amount of water, if the sauce gets too thick.
  • Again follow the measurement loosely and trust that you tongue knows what you like. Add or take away as you see fit.
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