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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

Sometimes the act of frying something completely transforms it into something new. That's the case with the Catfish Salad ($11.95) at Chao Thai, where the fried catfish is barely recognizable as such, and where it's really a garnish on a salad rather than a dish on its own.

The salad is Chao Thai's green papaya, sweetened by peanut and tomato but mostly, pleasantly, tart and fiery. The catfish comes in the form of porous but greaseless protein nuggets that soak up the lime juice dressing and add crunch to the crisp green papaya. Don't think fried fish chunks; think ground fish magically made totally crisp from crust to center. It's mild fish turned into bread crumbs, but meatier and more fitting on the fishy-sour salad.

I'll admit—this is kind of weird stuff, and the idea of crunchy protein nuggets on your salad isn't everyone's idea of a good time. But if pork floss gets you going, or if you're just looking for a lighter spin on fried pork rinds, give this dish a try. And hey, it's salad, so it can't be that bad for you, right?

Chao Thai

85-03 Whitney Ave, Queens NY 11373 (map)
718-424-4999

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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