Larb

Larb

Minced meat, shards of crisp red shallot, lime juice, herbs, roasted
rice powder and dried chillies… larb can be fresh and fragrant,
skipping across the tongue, or seriously, pungently powerful.

Origins
Arguments rage as to larb’s roots. Some say it originated in Laos, others that it has the same roots as steak tartare – simply raw meat and onions – and was spread with Haw merchants from the southwest of China into northern Thailand. Whatever, it’s known as a dish of northeast Thailand and Laos, although regional variations abound – from pounded raw buffalo meat and offal to cooked chicken and pork, though the dressing is always spicy and rich.

You’ll need
1 tbs peanut/olive oil
500g (1lb) minced chicken
3–4 dried red chillies
2 kaffir lime leaves, sliced
½ red onion, peeled and
thinly sliced
2 spring onions (scallions),
finely chopped
¼ cup (60mL) chicken stock
1 tbs cornflour
2–3 tbs fish sauce (to taste)
1 tsp sugar
Juice of 1 lime
4 tbs uncooked sticky rice or
3–4 tbs chopped cashews
Cos lettuce
¼ cup fresh mint leaves,
chopped
Handful of fresh basil, ripped
into pieces

Cooking Method
1 Heat the oil in a large wok over high heat.
2 Add the minced chicken and stir for 2 minutes, until brown.
3 Add the dried chillies, kaffir lime leaves, sliced onion and spring onions and fry for 2 minutes.
4 In a jug, mix together the stock, cornflour, fish sauce, sugar and lime juice, then pour into the chicken mixture.
5 Reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for 3–4 minutes.
6 If using the sticky rice, put it in a dry-frying pan and stir over medium-high heat for 6–8 minutes. When the rice makes a ‘popping’ sound, transfer it to a pestle and mortar and grind it to a coarse powder.
7 Transfer the warm chicken to a big serving bowl, pour over the ground rice/chopped cashews and accompany with lettuce, fresh mint, fresh basil and – if you can take it – extra chilli!
TIP Chicken is the classic choice for this Thai dish, but pork/beef or even firm tofu would certainly suffice.

Tasting notes
This is a dish that can be ethereally delicate (albeit with a proper chilli punch), or viscerally carnivorous (buffalo hide, spleen, heart and liver can be a little testing when raw). As ever, balance is everything. The meat (cooked or uncooked) is finely minced or ground, and cooked (or bathed) in a dressing made of meat broth with dried red chilli powder. Optional lime juice adds citrus zing. In the Laotian version, shallots and garlic are blackened over an open flame first, to give that distinctive charred tang. Various herbs play their usual fragrant role, and the addition of roasted, ground glutinous rice powder at the end not only adds crunch, but a nutty depth too.

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