David Thompson, the Australian who has done more to document the fundamentals of Thai cookery than any other farang (foreigner), describes larb gai as “an ancient salad”. Thompson’s epic Thai Food (Penguin, 2002), now known in spice-loving households from Brisbane to Birmingham as “the pink book”, suggests that the origins of this dish are in south-west China. Chinese merchants, it is thought, helped spread versions of larb (also spelled larp or laab) to Cambodia, Laos and northern Thailand, where it is most often made with minced pork or chicken. Today, as Thompson notes, it is “deservedly popular throughout Thailand”. Beyond Thailand, too: you’ll find it on menus in Thai restaurants everywhere, where it
is reproduced with varying levels of authenticity.
Traditionally, the Thai take on larb involves cooking the minced meat in a spicy dressing that uses dried chillies. This can result in a hotter dish than some people will enjoy; for this recipe, Lesley Russell has used a fresh long red chilli, which is not overly hot, but if you’re a heat fiend feel free to dial it up with dried chillies as well as, or instead of the fresh chilli.
An abundance of herbs is a must, as is ground, roasted rice—the thickening agent that gives larb its unique texture and mildly nutty flavour.
Served just warm or at room temperature, it’s a versatile dish that can make a light main course alongside steamed jasmine rice and a dish of crisp raw vegetables, or a component of a shared-table meal, or—wrapped in crisp lettuce leaves—an entree or pass-around starter.
- Make the roasted rice. Weigh the rice into the mixing bowl and cook 10 minutes/Varoma/speed soft. Remove the lid and allow to cool slightly, then process 1 second/Turbo; the rice should still be textural rather than a powder. Process once more if necessary. Set aside.
- Without rinsing the mixing bowl, add the onion, ginger, garlic and chilli. Chop 1 second/Turbo. Check the consistency—the mixture should be finely chopped and may have a few large pieces remaining. Chop again if need be but be careful not to create mush.
- Add the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar. Swirl the bowl to combine everything helping with a spatula if you need to. Set the mixture aside but don’t rinse the bowl.
- Cut the chicken into chunks and weigh into the mixing bowl. Process 2 seconds/Turbo to create mince. Chop again if need be but the mince should not be too smooth.
- Add 50 grams water and cook 6–7 minutes/100 degrees/speed soft. The chicken should be just cooked through; don’t overcook it or it will become dry.
- Drain off any liquid in the chicken and add the onion mixture. Stir together lightly with a spatula.
- Turn the mixture into a wide bowl and toss through 2–3 tablespoons of the rice to absorb excess liquid. Toss through the coriander and mint leaves. Serve immediately with chopped toasted peanuts and cucumber, lettuce cups too, if you like. Extra lime and salt can be served on the side.