Wondrous larb gai

A few moons ago, the book club chicks were at my place and I wanted to make something fast, fresh and knock-your-socks-off.  I chose larb gai.

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

Serves 4

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.

Sticky Rice

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.

15 responses to “Wondrous larb gai

  1. What a gorgeous photo!

  2. nettie cronish

    Can you crumble tofu instead of chicken, increase the oil? nettie

    • I was thinking about you and that… Yes, pls try it with tofu and a little more oil and let me know how it works out.
      Do you ever freeze then defrost firm tofu to change the texture into something more meaty?

  3. Jane Danielson

    We had something like this in Laos and couldn’t get enough!

    Great blog BTW!

    jane

  4. Thanks for the directions and extra tips on sticky rice. I’m ready to try it again with more confidence. I think your readers would love your fresh mango on coconut sticky rice. It’s delectable!

  5. Hi Madeleine
    Great blog. I’m so glad Rocca turned me on to it. I always order coconut sticky rice at our favourite Thai place in Kingston ( Mango ). I thought I could fake making it by just using coconut milk while cooking but it was hideous and could not be served ! Hope to see your recipe.

  6. I just came up from the freezer in the basement with 2 packages of ground chicken in my hands. i had been planning on making chicken chili with posoles but now I think I will make this as well. I can hardly wait!!

  7. One other thing – at Mango (in Kingston), they serve the coconut sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves. Is that at all tricky ?

    • I love banana leaves!
      You can buy them in the frozen food section of any large Asian supermarket. Defrost and unfurl. You’ll be surprised to see that a single leaf is as long as five feet. I always wipe them down, since they are dirty. (And I don’t hesitate to re-freeze the leftover banana leaves.)
      Once defrosted, you can wrap them around food and cook: either by steaming, baking or grilling.
      But there’s a problemo: they rip like crazy and the food/sauce will leak out! I have read that you can “cure” the leaves by placing them over a low flame. That is supposed to stop the tearing. But I’m too lazy for that. I often wrap food in banana leaves then wrap again in aluminum foil. This works particularly well when steaming or roasting.
      Banana leaves have great aroma that enhance a dish, ten-fold.
      Try it!!!

  8. I made this and we loved it. Bennett suggested it might be good with a taco. Maybe. But mine was not green! What do you suppose made this one so nice and green? I know green is not a traditional appetizing colour, but it is for asian food I think.

    • You are not going to like my answer: The plate is green!!! That’s paint, not larb gai juice. The sauce in larb gai has no more green tinge to it than the sauce you’ll produce making Thai chicken and basil, which I know you love to make.

      Hope you still liked it and aren’t too colour-crestfallen!

  9. gobsmacked, I am! Nice plate and nope, not at all crestfallen, rather, I am inspired to go get some pretty serving plates like that.

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