Larb Gai

Larb is considered the national dish of Laos, although it is also popular in the north-east region of Thailand called Isan (also famous for it fermented sausages). It is a minced meat salad and can be made with various kinds of meats as well as fish and mushrooms.

The dish has complex flavours, but it´s not difficult to make. It does, however, contain an essential ingredient that experts on Lao food say must never be omitted: toasted glutinous rice powder (note that it is not glutinous rice flour; the recipe is provided below). It acts as a thickener, but also gives the dish a nutty flavour.

You can use prepared mince for the dish, but I suggest mincing chicken fillet by hand so that the meat is not pulverised.

Ingredients

300g chicken mince
Water
1 tbsp ground toasted glutinous rice (recipe below)
2-3 shallots, thinly sliced
Fish sauce, to taste
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Grated palm sugar, to taste (optional)
1 fresh long red chilli, finely chopped (leave seeds in if desired)
Small handful fresh mint leaves, roughly torn
Small handful fresh coriander leaves, roughly torn

Method

Heat a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add chicken mince and flatten it into a thin patty. Press down to cook the bottom, but do not let the meat brown too much. Flip the chicken patty over to cook the other side, then gently break up the meat into small chunks. Toss around until chicken is completely cooked. There should be some liquid at the bottom of the pan. If it looks dry, add a little water and bring to the boil.

Turn off the heat and add ½ the ground toasted glutinous rice. Stir into the liquid. Add shallots.

Combine fish sauce and lime juice to taste, plus some palm sugar for a little sweetness, if desired. Add dressing to the chicken with the chilli. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add more ground glutinous rice if there is too much liquid.

Add mint and coriander and toss together. Serve with plain rice or glutinous rice.

To make ground toasted glutinous rice, put a handful of white glutinous rice into a dry frying pan and toast over medium heat, tossing constantly, until the grains are golden brown. This may take 20 to 30 minutes. Pound or grind the rice until fine, but still slightly grainy (as in the picture). Store in an air-tight container and use whenever a thickener is needed.

Jane Ragavan writes The Wayward Oven


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