For the last installment of Holiday Traditions, I wrap up with a recipe that translates well into the new year ahead.
Whenever my sister Victoria and I go home for a holiday or a visit, there's always one thing that I can count on eating - my mother's Laab Gai. Also known as Laap or Larb, the dish hails from both my Laotian and Northeastern Thai, or Isan, family's cuisine. Much like pickling or kimchi, the idea of laab extends beyond one dish, and is more a way to prepare different ingredients in a similar way to make many dishes. Generally, in Thai and Laotian restaurants here in New York, and in my own home, laab refers to a meat that is chopped or ground, seasoned with roasted ground rice, lime juice, fish sauce, shallots, chili peppers and herbs and is served with a side of steamed sticky rice.
My mother's own Laab Gai, or chicken laab, far surpasses any that I've ever had in a restaurant. Often too sweet, and almost never served with enough chilies or sticky rice for my liking, I order it at few restaurants. To me, it's best made at home, left to marinate overnight, and then served with freshly chopped herbs the next day at room temperature. If you can't wait, eating it the same day is the normal practice - but I love when the fish sauce and lime really work their way into the meat when it's given time to marinate. The pungent flavors bouncing off of the brightness of the mint and lemongrass become that much more delicious.
Another wonderful aspect about this dish is that it's pretty healthy, as I'd argue most of my Thai and Laotian family's cooking is. If, like many, you're heading into the new year with resolutions to eat out less or to be healthier, than this is your new replacement for delivery Pad Thai every week. If you still can't kick your addiction to Pad Thai, click here to find my healthy, totally raw spin on the dish.
Madre Durden's Laab Gai
1 Pound of Lean Chicken Meat, Ground or Cooked and Chopped
2 Large Shallots, Sliced
1/2 of 1 Red Onion, Sliced
4 Tablespoons of Uncooked Jasmine or Sweet Rice
3 Limes, Squeezed
3 Tablespoons of Fish Sauce
1/2 Cup of Mint
1/2 Cup of Thai Basil
1/2 Cup of Cilantro
1 Stalk of Lemongrass
1 inch of Galanga or Ginger, skinned and sliced
3 Fresh Thai Chili Peppers, also known as Bird's Eye Chilies or 2 Tablespoons of Dried Thai Chili Flakes
- Cook your ground chicken in a small amount of oil until cooked through. If using unground meat, cook through and then chop into bite sized pieces.
- In a seasoned wok or cast iron pan roast the rice grains over medium high heat until they turn a dark golden brown. Remove from heat and grind with a mortar and pestle until all the grains are crushed, but stopping before all rice grains turn into a powder. You want the rice to keep a nice crunch.
- Wash and chop your lemongrass and julienne your mint and basil. Remove cilantro leaves from stems. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the chicken, shallots, red onion, galanga or ginger, lime and fish sauce. Add more lime or fish sauce to adjust to your taste. Add in fresh herbs and mix.
- Top with roasted rice and serve immediately with steamed sticky rice or cabbage cups.
Tips: If not serving immediately do not mix in herbs. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve and let the chicken mixture come to room temperature before mixing in the hers and topping with the roasted ground rice. By serving the dish at room temperature, you allow all of the flavors of the herbs, fish sauce and lime to mingle with the juices from the chicken.
Secondly, my mother always does her laab by taste, rather than by recipe, and we like ours a bit heavier on the lime and fish sauce. Taste as you go and add more lime and fish sauce if you'd like. It really all depends on the juiciness of your lime, the saltiness of your fish sauce and the spiciness of your onions and shallots. There's no completely exact recipe when it comes to the best dish, just what you like the most.
Since, like any good Thai daughter, I've learned to keep things like red onion, shallots, lime and fish sauce on hand, I didn't have to purchase any of those. My costs came in around $10 for all ingredients. If you were to buy everything, your costs would probably be around $15 for four servings, with ingredients for your pantry that are easily used in many other recipes. That's about $3.75 per serving.
For more ways to use your newly bought fish sauce, check out Import Food. Aside from awesome videos of street vendors in Thailand cooking the recipes on their site, they also have an online marketplace where you can purchase many, if not all of the ingredient you need to create the perfect Thai dish at home.