RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Everything about food, from matching food and wine to recipes, techniques and trends.

Moderators: Jenise, David M. Bueker, Robin Garr

RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 17, 2007 1:48 am

Thai Larb Gai

Spring is rapidly moving on toward summer around here, and warmer weather just about always makes me start thinking about light yet filling dishes, with extra credit for plates that can be served cool or cold.

Dinner salads fill this bill nicely, and best of all, there's a world of splendid salad dishes that range from Tijuana's classic Caesar to Los Angeles' Cobb, the classic Niçoise of Provence and Italy's tasty antipasto plates that bring together sumptuous selections of salad greens, salame, olives and cheese.

Nor need dinner salads be limited to the Western table. In Southeast Asia, where tropical heat makes light, cool dishes desirable year-round, an exotic realm of salads awaits the hungry diner, and nowhere more so than in Thailand, where salads and spicy soups often serve as the centerpiece for the meal.

I love all the colorful cuisines of the region with their exciting spices and flavors, and would have a hard time choosing a favorite among Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Thai and their neighbors, perhaps basing my favorite <i>du jour</i> on which nation's restaurant I happened to be standing nearest at the time.

Today let's make <I>Larb Gai</i>, a Thai chicken salad that in my experience is a usual menu selection at Thai restaurants in the U.S. This is my second run at this dish in recent years; reviewing the archives I see that I offered a similar dish, titled with the alternative spelling "laab," about 3 1/2 years ago at the end of 2003. Feel free to compare the recipes, which are similar but not identical. Either will make a reasonably authentic version.

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
8-12 ounces (240g-360g) cooked chicken meat without the bones
2 tablespoons (30g) uncooked white rice
1/4 cup (60g) fresh chopped cilantro leaves (reserve the stems for garnish)
2 green onions (scallions)
1/4 cup chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion
1/4 cup mint leaves thinly sliced into a fine chiffonade
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons <i>nam pla</i> (Thai fish sauce)
Sriracha sauce or other Southeast Asian red-chile sauce to taste
Chinese red-chile and garlic paste or Indonesian <i>sambal oelek</i> to taste
Iceberg or green romaine lettuce and, optionally for color contrast, radicchio or red Belgian endive
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1/2 tablespoon lime juice
Salt
Black pepper

PROCEDURE:

1. Tear or cut the chicken into thin shreds. If you don't have leftover chicken and prefer to prepare it fresh, I suggest poaching it in water or chicken broth with plenty of garlic, fresh ginger and black peppercorns to infuse the meat with compatible aromatics.

2. Make roasted rice powder, a Southeast Asian flavoring that's surprisingly easy to fashion at home: Put the rice in a small, dry iron skillet and put it over a high flame, shaking it occasionally and keeping an eye on it. After a few minutes the rice will start to turn golden, then brown. Shake frequently so it will brown evenly. When it's colored with no white remaining, dump it into a mortar or pestle, mini-food processor or spice grinder and grind it to a powder about the consistency of dry sand.

3. Chop the cilantro leaves and the green onions, slice the mint leaves thin, and cut the sweet onions into paper-thin slices. Mix these and your roasted rice powder with the shredded chicken in a bowl, tossing with two forks until all the ingredients are well blended. Mix the lime juice and fish sauce and use this liquid to dress the chicken and and onion-herb mix.

4. Finally, season with Sriracha sauce and red-chile-garlic sauce to taste. If you want it mild, try starting with 1/4 teaspoon Sriracha sauce and 1/2 teaspoon red-chile-garlic sauce, or even a little less; but please be brave and don't omit them entirely. Even a harmless hint of piquant fire is better than none in this dish. If you're an asbestos-mouth chile lover, try 1 teaspoon Sriracha and a tablespoon of red-chile-garlic sauce, but don't say I didn't warn you. Alternatively, make the basic dish mild but pass the hot sauces at the table so everyone can do it their way.

5. You can serve the <i>Larb Gai</i> immediately or leave it refrigerated for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors blend. At serving time, shred the lettuces, dress them with a quick peanut oil-lime juice vinaigrette, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Place this green salad in a large bowl, mound the <i>Larb Gai</i> on top, and garnish with the cilantro stems snipped into short lengths. We served it with white rice to make a complete meal.

<B>MATCHING WINE:</B> As mentioned in yesterday's <I>30 Second Wine Advisor</i>, I served this with an aromatic Alsatian Pinot Blanc. The wine was imperfect but drinkable, redolent of wet wool and overripe melons, but the salad was bold enough to stand up to those flavors. A good Riesling or perhaps a Cremant de la Loire sparkling wine would also make a fine match.

<center>Subscribe to The 30 Second Wine Advisor's weekly FoodLetter</center>
User avatar
Robin Garr
Forum Janitor
 
Posts: 16666
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Louisville, KY

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Maria Samms » Thu May 17, 2007 10:36 am

Interesting recipe Robin...looks really delicious!

One question...is there any particular rice I should use?
"Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance" -Benjamin Franklin
User avatar
Maria Samms
Picky Eater Pleaser
 
Posts: 1280
Joined: Thu Dec 28, 2006 9:42 pm
Location: Morristown, NJ

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 17, 2007 11:12 am

Maria Samms wrote:...is there any particular rice I should use?


Good question, Maria. I used long-grain (and probably should have specified that), but when I think about it, I'll bet there's a fair chance that in Southeast Asia they might use a medium-grain rice. Bottom line, I doubt that it matters much, although I'd steer clear of converted rice for fear that the steaming process used to produce it might alter the flavor effects of toasting.
User avatar
Robin Garr
Forum Janitor
 
Posts: 16666
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Louisville, KY

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Cynthia Wenslow » Thu May 17, 2007 1:22 pm

Ok, I obviously need to get more sleep. I read this as "freshly squeezed fish sauce."

:?
User avatar
Cynthia Wenslow
Pizza Princess
 
Posts: 5788
Joined: Mon Mar 27, 2006 10:32 pm
Location: The Third Coast

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Paul Winalski » Thu May 17, 2007 1:34 pm

Maria Samms wrote:Interesting recipe Robin...looks really delicious!

One question...is there any particular rice I should use?


Given that this is a Thai dish, I'd suggest jasmine rice. But any long-grain rice would do.

-Paul W.
User avatar
Paul Winalski
Wok Wielder
 
Posts: 4027
Joined: Wed Mar 22, 2006 10:16 pm
Location: Merrimack, New Hampshire

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Jay Baldwin » Thu May 17, 2007 2:15 pm

I'll second the vote for jasmine rice for the roasted rice powder. I like mine a little coarser than "dry sand"; I'd say shoot for the texture of coarsely-ground black pepper. Brown jasmine rice is widely available and works fine for this. (As well as for the cooked rice which must accompany this.)

I make Larb at least a couple of times a year. When the peppermint plants are well-endowed in mid-summer, I can't resist. (And I will recommend peppermint over spearmint or common mint for this dish.)

Beef and turkey are also good meats for larb. The recipe I have comes from Ruth Law's Southeast Asia Cookbook (an excellent cookbook). The technique for preparing the meat is to use ground raw meat and form into small meatballs (unseasoned), and then poach them until just barely cooked through. High-quality ground beef and turkey from your butcher or grocery meat counter is a nice shortcut when you don't want to deal with food processor cleanup later. (As a meat dish, this probably originates from the Thai interior north or east... I can close my eyes and imagine the dish being prepared in jungle villages by pulverizing meat in a large mortar and pestle.)

Red onion, if reasonably sweet, is a nice alternative to white or yellow onions... it add some eye-appeal. Instead of chopping or dicing, I'll do thin slices and then cut the slices into half- or quarter-rings.

I don't have my recipe in front of me, but I think mine may have a small amount of sugar in it, to both provide some balance for the extreme saltiness of the Nuoc Mam (fish sauce), and soften the acidic edge of the citrus and the fish sauce. The salad shouldn't taste sweet; the sugar is only just enough to harmonize the intense flavors in the liquid ingredients. And finally, don't even think of using reconstituted lime juice. This is one of those recipes where only fresh-squeezed will do.
User avatar
Jay Baldwin
Wine geek
 
Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Jun 27, 2006 5:36 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Jenise » Thu May 17, 2007 3:40 pm

Robin or anyone,

If I understand correctly, in Thai the word "larb" equates to salad and "gai" further denotes this as a chicken version; is that correct?

I'll add that in Thai restaurants in California, shaved cabbage is usually another ingredient in addition to some sort of softer letttuce, sometimes the red kind too for it's bright color.

Also, like Jay, I've experienced it as being slightly sweet--if we were talking of a wine we'd call it off dry. I especially love to order it in restaurants where the meat component is just-grilled hot.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
Jenise
FLDG Dishwasher
 
Posts: 25789
Joined: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm
Location: The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Robin Garr » Thu May 17, 2007 10:30 pm

Jenise wrote:If I understand correctly, in Thai the word "larb" equates to salad and "gai" further denotes this as a chicken version; is that correct?


I think laab/larb is a particular kind of salad involving chopped, pounded or shredded meat, poultry or seafood, but basically yes. Gai - probably not by coincidence - is both Thai and Chinese (Cantonese, anyway) for chicken.

Thanks for the other tips. The little bit o' sugar is interesting. I wouldn't have thought of it based on my perception of restaurant dishes I've had, but the points you and Jay made do make sense. Might try it next time, just don't tell Mary. ;)
User avatar
Robin Garr
Forum Janitor
 
Posts: 16666
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm
Location: Louisville, KY

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Jay Baldwin » Thu May 17, 2007 11:47 pm

I verified the use of sugar in the Ruth Law recipe... and a few other essentials. Quantities are for a pound of meat.

The proportions for fish sauce/lime juice/sugar in my recipe are:
2 TB nam pla (fish sauce)
6 TB lime juice, fresh squeezed
2 tsp sugar

Other ingredients:
Garlic (of course! 1-2 TB crushed)
Lemon grass (bottom 6 inches of one stalk, very fine mince)

Garnish / serve-withs:
I really enjoy larb on cucumber slices. Yum!
And almost as good with raw zucchini. And a few wedges of garden-fresh tomatoes. Really, this dish is made for summer!
User avatar
Jay Baldwin
Wine geek
 
Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Jun 27, 2006 5:36 pm
Location: Michigan

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Paul Winalski » Fri May 18, 2007 2:16 am

Jenise wrote:Robin or anyone,

If I understand correctly, in Thai the word "larb" equates to salad and "gai" further denotes this as a chicken version; is that correct?


Yup. Laab/Larb/Lap (I've seen all three transliterations) is the name for this kind of salad from Northern Thailand featuring raw or lightly cooked ground meat. Gai is both Thai and Chinese (the Thai people were a southern Chinese tribe who migrated to the land we now call Thailand) for chicken. The beef version is Laab Nur; the pork version would be Laab Mu.

Laab Nur is traditionally made with raw beef chopped very fine (sort of a Thai steak Tartare) and can be blazingly hot due to liberal lacings of chiles. Many Thai restaurants lightly poach the beef (I prefer it that way, myself--never been able to get used to the idea of raw meat). The chicken version should always be made with cooked meat to avoid the hazard of Salmonella (or worse) bacterial food poisoning.

-Paul W.
User avatar
Paul Winalski
Wok Wielder
 
Posts: 4027
Joined: Wed Mar 22, 2006 10:16 pm
Location: Merrimack, New Hampshire

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Jenise » Fri May 18, 2007 12:29 pm

Laab Nur is traditionally made with raw beef chopped very fine (sort of a Thai steak Tartare) and can be blazingly hot due to liberal lacings of chiles. Many Thai restaurants lightly poach the beef


I didn't know that, Paul, thanks. The versions I've had always had grilled beef slices--probably a modification for western palates.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
Jenise
FLDG Dishwasher
 
Posts: 25789
Joined: Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm
Location: The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: RCP /FoodLetter: Thai Larb Gai

Postby Jay Baldwin » Mon May 21, 2007 2:34 pm

Jenise,

There is another Thai dish that fits your description better... maybe you have the two confused? Yum Neau ("beef salad") has almost all the same ingredients (but not roasted rice powder). It is lightly grilled beef (any relatively tender grill-and-slice cut, like flank, works nicely), sliced then tossed with the "dressing" ingredients (lime juice, nam pla, sambal oelek, sugar :wink: , and possibly lemon grass and/or garlic), then served over sliced lettuce, along with a few thin-sliced onions and/or scallions, and tomato wedges.
User avatar
Jay Baldwin
Wine geek
 
Posts: 77
Joined: Tue Jun 27, 2006 5:36 pm
Location: Michigan


Return to The Forum Kitchen

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Yahoo [Bot] and 3 guests