If you’ve never encountered larb, it’s one of the greatest dishes ever. It’s meat salad. Yup. Say that with me, those wonderfully incongruous delicious perfect words. Meat Salad. Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, meat salad.
Larb (which has a number of spellings and transliterations) is a traditional dish from Laos and in Lao communities in northern Thailand. It’s a popular dish in American Thai restaurants where, if it’s familiar to you, you’re likely to have encountered it. The dish varies from simple to incredibly complex and is often a symphony of different and contrasting flavors and textures. There are even variations that call for raw meat. This is not one of those variations.
While there are chicken larbs, this preparation is more like a pork larb I’ve encountered at a number of Thai restaurants in San Francisco and in and around DC. Minced or ground season meat is dressed with a salty sweet, sour and spicy dressing and then mixed with crunchy elements that add texture and flavor. I often include some portion of chicken liver for an additional layer of funky flavor, but you can omit it if you’re not a fan of the “extra parts.”
The dressing calls for good fish sauce, palm sugar, and chili garlic sauce. The chili garlic sauce is available at most grocery stores. Fish sauce is also now commonly available at many groceries, but I strongly recommend you seek out better fish sauce than the brands often found on U.S. shelves. I use Three Crabs brand for most everyday use, and often have a bottle of Blis’ exceptional barrel aged Red Boat around for finishing and or special dishes. Palm sugar is available at most Asian markets, but you can substitute light brown sugar if it’s unavailable.
This recipe also calls for a handful of textural elements that require separate preparation. Fried shallots and garlic add crunch and flavor. Ground toasted rice adds a toasty flavor and texture that’s surprisingly integral to the dish – once you’ve tried it, you’ll notice it missing. Instructions for preparing fried shallots, fried garlic chips, and toasted rice can be found in the recipe notes.
Finally, you can play around with the textural and flavor elements to add or accentuate your own preferred flavors and textures. From time to time I’ve added thin strips of lime leaf, chopped coriander/cilantro stems, red pepper flake, additional minced chilis and other ingredients to bring out more sour, spicy, or crunch.
Chicken Thigh LarbCourse: Appetizers, Main, SharedCuisine: Lao, ThaiDifficulty: Difficult
- Chicken Mixture
2 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 chicken liver (opt)
1 green onion
1 serrano or large green Thai chili (green cayenne)
1 tsp minced ginger or galangal
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp neutral oil
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp palm sugar or light brown sugar
1 tsp minced ginger or galangal
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp Huy Fong chili garlic sauce
1 tsp minced cilantro
1 tsp minced mint
¼ cup fried shallots plus additional for topping
1 tbsp fried garlic chips
¼ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1 tsp ground roasted rice
cilantro (green coriander) leaves
julienned carrot (opt)
julienned cucumber (opt)
julienned radish (opt)
- Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces
- Roughly chop the pepper and green onion.
- Add the chicken, liver if using, onion, pepper, garlic, ginger or galangal, and fish sauce to the bowl of a food processor. Process until well minced and integrated. If you do not have a food processor, you can mince the mixture on a cutting board.
- In a frying pan or skillet, heat 1 tbsp neutral oil such as canola, soy, or peanut oil over medium heat. Add the chicken mixture and cook, stirring constantly and using a spoon or spatula to break up the mixture, until cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to cool completely.
- Use a microplane to zest the lime into a non-reactive bowl.
- Juice the lime into the zest.
- Add the fish sauce and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add ginger, garlic, and chili garlic sauce.
- Finely mince the cilantro and mint. Add the herbs to the dressing.
- To finish
- Peel, trim, and thinly slice the shallot from end to end.
- Tear the herbs into small pieces.
- Combine the cooled chicken mixture with the dressing.
- Mix in peanuts, fried shallots, garlic chips, and toasted rice.
- Add any additional garnishes.
- Top with fried shallots and serve with lettuce leaves, lime wedges, and sliced chilies.
- Serve immediately after mixing for best texture.
- To make fried shallots: Peel, trim, and very thinly slice shallots with a knife or mandoline. Place shallots in cold oil, and slowly bring up to temperature over a medium flame. Agitate to keep the shallots from sticking to each other and ensure even cooking. As soon as the shallots begin to brown, remove them from the oil and drain on a paper towel.
- To make fried garlic chips: Select medium to large cloves of garlic. peel, trim, and very thinly slice garlic into with a knife or mandoline. Place the garlic slices in cold oil, and slowly bring up to temperature over a medium flame. Agitate to keep the chips from sticking to each other and ensure even cooking. As soon as the chips begin to brown, remove them from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Take care not to over brown the chips as garlic becomes very bitter when burnt.
- To make toasted rice powder: Add ¼ cup of uncooked unrinsed dry jasmine rice to a dry pan over medium heat. Cook, constantly agitating the rice, until all the grains have turned a consistent light brown. Remove from the pan to stop cooking and allow to cool. Grind to a coarse powder using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Be sure to check out my other food project, The Weekly Menu!