Larb (pronounced lob) refers to a salady-kind of preparation in which chicken (gai) duck, beef, pork or even offal is minced, stir-fried plain and simple, then pumped up with flavour using fresh herbs, salty fish sauce and the sour pucker of lime juice. It’s a really easy dish to make and tastes best served at room temperature.
There’s one catch. You need a measly, one tablespoon of toasted rice powder to call this dish a success.
One option is to toast it yourself: toss a tablespoon of raw Thai jasmine rice into a dry frying pan and stir-fry on medium high until it turns golden brown. Let it cool then buzz it into a powder in your coffee grinder.
Or you can set off on an adventure and try to buy the stuff at Fu Yao Supermarket on Gerrard Street. Admittedly, foraging through a Chinese supermarket’s shelves looking for an obscure “toasted rice powder” package will tax your patience and your hearing, for they play the worst Chinese pop over their sound system.
But no rice powder, no deal. The success of larb gai hinges on the nuttiness of this ingredient that also serves as a thickening agent.
Secondly, if you care about good texture, ground the chicken yourself. Get a pound of boneless chicken (hint: chicken thighs equal flavour) and process briefly with a steel blade in your food processor. Better still, mince it with a cleaver and unload a day’s worth of angst.
And thirdly, don’t even consider substituting the fresh coriander or mint with dried. (Yes I’m bossy, but it’s my blog.)
To serve this authentically, place it on a bed of lettuce with cabbage wedges and yard-long beans on the side.
But if you want to go girlie-girl for the book club chicks, get some iceberg lettuce, cut the head in half and pull apart the leaves to create crunchy lettuce bowls. Spoon your larb gai into these crunchy, edible vessels.
This dish hails from northeastern Thailand where it sidles up against the Laotian border, so both countries lay claim to its heritage and both eat it with sticky rice.
Larb Gai: Spicy Minced Chicken Salad
1 tbsp raw Thai jasmine rice
1 lb ground chicken
1/3 cup lime juice
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp minced shallot
2 green onions, chopped
1- 1 1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 tbsp chopped coriander
2 tbsp chopped mint
1/4 cup fish sauce
4 Romaine or leafy lettuce leaves
4 wedges cabbage
4 Yard-long beans or 12 green beans, trimmed
In a small dry frying pan on high heat, saute rice grains 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer to small bowl and cool. Grind finely in a coffee grinder or spice mill.
In a medium bowl, combine ground chicken with 2 tbsp of the lime juice.
Heat wok on high heat. Add oil, swirl around sides of wok. Add chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink about 4 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl. Add ground roasted rice, shallots, green onion, chili flakes, coriander, mint , remaining lime juice and fish sauce. Mix well.
Arrange lettuce leaves on serving platter and place chicken mixture on top. Arrange cabbage wedges and green beans around the chicken.
While sticky rice is eaten throughout Thailand, it is most adored in the north — without utensils. Northern Thais scoop up sticky rice into small pieces, roll it slightly between the thumb and forefingers then dip it into a curry, yam or sauce.
Sticky rice is not made sticky via cooking. Rather, it is a special variety of rice known as glutinous. Since many Asians use it for dessert preparations, you may see it labeled as “sweet rice” in the stores. It’s also labeled as “glutinous rice” or pin kao in Thai. Just to confuse things, it is rarely labeled “sticky rice”.
Sticky rice grains are short, with a deep, ivory white colour (the left bag in the photo) compared to the more opaque colouring of regular rice.
It’s a cinch to prepare- yet it does need a little planning.
1 cup of sticky rice serves 2-3 people.
Long Method: Soak rice in cold water (to cover 2-3 inches) 8-24 hours at room temperature
Quick Method: Soak rice in warm water (to cover 2-3 inches) for 2-4 hours at room temperature
(Unfortunately the quick method never tastes quite as good.)
Line a steamer basket with cheesecloth and fill with drained sticky rice. Fill steamer with several inches of boiling water. Cover and steam for 25 minutes, or until the rice is shiny with an oily-like sheen and tender, but chewy.
Always keep cooked sticky rice well covered or it will dry out.
Leftover sticky rice is best reheated in a steamer.