Larb, larp, laap whatever you call it, this Lao mince salad has started regularly presenting its zingy little face at our dinner table. Hot, caramelised meat plus frying pan juices poured over crunchy herbal salad, sharply dressed, sprinkled with toasted rice and skinned up with a crisp iceberg leaf. Mmmm.
The “khao khua” or roasted rice powder is a must and as easy as toasting some Thai sticky (or in my case pudding) rice in a dry frying pan and then pounding to grit (or you could just buy a pack from an Oriental supermarket). I marinated chicken thighs overnight before chopping into teeny tiny pieces, pre-minced meat would of course be the more convenient, if less texturally fine option.
There are no claims to authenticity here; I prefer to see larb as a truly magical way of saving salad drawer remnants from the bin. After six months of Winter comfort food the freshness factor has been a welcome relief.
4 boneless and skinless chicken thighs
2 tbsp. oyster sauce
The juice of one lime
1 shallot or small onion, finely sliced
A little neutral oil (groundnut’s good)
For the salad
3 fat spring onions, finely sliced
½ a yellow, red and green pepper, thinly sliced
A few big handfuls of beansprouts
2 handfuls of coriander, finely chopped
1 handful of mint, finely shredded
1 -2 fresh red Thai chillies, finely chopped
For the dressing
4 tbsp. fish sauce
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. Thai chilli jam/sauce
Pinch of palm/brown sugar
The juice of a lime
3-4 tbsp. uncooked sticky rice or khao khua powder
1 iceberg lettuce
Mix the chicken thighs with the oyster sauce and the juice of one of the limes. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, or even overnight if you can.
If toasting your own rice, heat a dry frying pan and tip in the rice. Once it turns golden and smells popcorn-like, remove from the heat and grind to a coarse powder. Keep in an airtight jar, ready for your next fix.
Mix the salad ingredients. Separate the iceberg leaves out. Combine the dressing ingredients and adjust until you’re happy with the sour, salty, hot balance.
Finely chop the chicken and mix well with the marinade.
Heat a frying pan and add just a little slick of oil. When it’s hot, add the shallot and fry until almost crisp. Tip in the chicken and cook until it starts to caramelise in places.
Pour the hot chicken into the cold salad and mix well. Dress, sprinkle with the toasted rice, wrap in leaves of iceberg and eat immediately.