Labour of Larb
By Sydaney Moog
I have a confession. Admitting this may result in my mother disowning me and sounds of “tsks tsks” coming from my aunties. It’s a closely guarded secret kept by many Lao cooks, only told to you once you are deemed worthy enough, having proved yourself by producing authentic Lao dishes to detailed specifications. OK. Here it is… Larb is a very simple dish to make. Stress-free with only a few ingredients. Simplistic in nature with the difficulty is getting the balance of flavours right – achieving that perfect juxtaposition of salty and sour/richness and freshness.
Larb is one of my favourite Lao dishes. Essentially it is a salad – a wonderfully flavourful, aromatic salad. As I venture into the world of Laos cooking, it was always one of the dishes that I thought would be too hard for me to conquer. One of those dishes that I didn’t bother to learn because I always thought “It seems too complicated – I’ll just have mums and ask her to make it”. My mother did nothing to dispel that myth saying many times “It’s too hard to make…it’ll take too long…” making Larb a shining beacon of a dish only to be served on very special occasions making the event even more exceptional. All that pounding of meat, all that slicing, stirring and mixing – it just seemed too complicated.
One day I watched it being prepared. I watched the minced meat being taken out of the bag, the giblets and banana flower being sliced in 2 minutes flat, then all the ingredients coming together in about 5 (OK so I’m slightly exaggerating here but it was extremely quick) and Larb was in front of me waiting to be devoured. That’s when the secret was discovered and I knew I could have it anytime I wanted, in the time and the effort it takes to whip up a stir-fry.
Below I have provided a recipe for Chicken Larb. You may also use pork or beef if you want, just adjust the flavours through the rice powder, lime juice and fish sauce (for example you may want to add more rice powder for beef and maybe more lime for pork). You may also choose to omit the chicken giblets from the chicken Larb if you don’t fancy it (personally I love it). But please do give it a try. It really is easy and if you keep this secret to yourself, your unsuspecting dining guinea pigs guests will think you’re a culinary star.
500g chicken mince
200g chicken giblets cut into small pieces
2 shallots (red onion) finely sliced
2 stalks spring onion finely chopped
¼ cup chopped mint leaves
3 tbs roasted rice powder
2 tbs Thai chilli powder (make sure it’s the Thai chilli powder)
3 tbs lime juice
2-3 tbs fish sauce
½ banana flower finely sliced
Whole mint leaves and fresh chilli to garnish
- Cook chicken giblets in boiling water. When done, drain and set aside.
- Fry chicken with 2tbs lime juice in a pan over moderate heat.
- Transfer cooked chicken into a mixing bowl, add giblets and remaining ingredients (except mint leaves and fresh chilli to garnish) and mix well.
- Taste and season, adding extra chilli powder, lime juice or fish sauce to your taste preference.
- Pour onto serving plate and garnish with the mint leaves on top and fresh chilli to the side.
Serve with long green beans and cucumbers. It is usually served with sticky rice, with the rice rolled into a ball with your fingers and the sticky rice ball used to pick up the larb (the best way to do it). Or if sticky rice isn’t your thing, serve with jasmine rice.