CHICKEN LARB - Laos' national dish, a spicy meat salad
Have you ever heard of ‘larb’ (sometimes also spelled ‘laab’)? If you haven’t, you really should.
Please let me introduce it to you: Larb is the national dish Laos and popular beyond its borders, so chances are you might have come across it in Thailand or Vietnam.
The story of how I came to know (and love) Larb is a bit unorthodox. As much as I wish I could tell you about my accidentally stumbling across it in the back roads of a tiny Lao village, that is not the case - my first introduction to larb was much more unexpected.
Picture me in southern Germany, more precisely in the town of Ulm, at the foot of the Ulm Minster, the tallest church in the world. I’m cold, I’m miserable, and I’m hungry (one might say I am ‘hangry’ at this point). Looking for a place to eat, we walk past this really cozy looking Lao restaurant, and in we go.
The rest is history: I experienced the delights of Lao cuisine and have since been obsessed.
As is customary for me in a restaurant, when I really like the dish, I tried to figure out all the ingredients so I can cook it at home. However, I could just not get my head around what was giving the Larb dressing this nutty, slightly ‘grainy’ texture. I assumed peanuts, however the menu didn’t state them (and it would have, for allergy reasons alone), so I was left dumbfounded. Only later did I learn that what I was trying to figure out was roasted uncooked grains of rice, finely ground in mortar & pestle, to bind the dressing and give it additional texture and a slightly nutty taste.
Sorry for my rambling, I’ll get to the point, the actual recipe and information about Larb now ;-)
What is Larb actually?
Larb is a spicy meat salad that can be made with chicken, beef or pork. Today, we will focus on the chicken recipe, but I also have a minced beef larb recipe for you.
The dish combines the texture of the meat with umami flavours from fish sauce, heat from chillies, sharpness from raw onions, freshness from herbs, nuttiness from toasted rice and sweetness from palm sugar.
That’s a lot going on in one bite, don’t you think? And you are right, Larb is an explosion of flavour in your mouth.
So much actually, that in order to tone it down a bit, it is served with either sticky rice or green salad (cucumber, green beans, lettuce, you name it) - anything to neutralise the heat and cleanse the palate.
Things you need to know
- Meat: for this recipe, I used boneless and skinless chicken thighs that I cut into little cubes. Thigh meat is always juicer than breast meat, and we wouldn’t want this dish to be dry and flaky.
Also bear in mind the meat is not supposed to be fried and browned, it is gently ‘cooked’.
- Rice powder: you will only need about 2 tsp for this recipe, but I do recommend making a bit more and storing it for the next time you make Larb (believe me, there will be a next time) or even to use in other recipes that could do with a bit of a nutty flavour and texture.
- Greens: use what you have. I like cucumber slices because they are the perfect counterpart to balance down the spice of the salad, add freshness and cleanse the palate. I also use runner beans or sliced sweet bell peppers.
- Salt: given the high sodium content of the fish sauce, it is unlikely you will need additional salt.
Just 20 minutes to create this delicious but spicy dish. Are you up for the challenge? Then let's grab our aprons, I'll meet you in the kitchen.
I would love to know your thoughts on whether you will give it a try or a pass. Feel free to comment below.
Lao Chicken Larb
This spicy meat salad is the Laotian national dish and ready to serve in under 20 minutes.
Fact SheetCategory: salad, main Cuisine: Asian Dairy free Gluten free Low calorie Low carb Low fat Starters Main Dishes under 1 hour under 30 minutes Salads Cooking Method: frying Diet: Gluten Free Low Calorie Low Carb Low Fat Low Lactose Preparation Time: 10 minutes Total Time: 10 minutes Servings: 2
- 400g chicken thigh, cut into small cubes
- 1 red onion (thinly sliced)
- 1 spring onion (sliced)
- 1 bunch cilantro (chopped)
- optional: 1 TBSP mint leaves (chopped)
- fresh greens, e.g. cucumber, green beans, lettuce, bell peppers
- 2 tsp uncooked grains of rice (Basmati or Jasmine)
- For the dressing:
- 3 TBSP fish sauce
- 2 TBSP grated palm sugar or standard granulated white sugar
- 1 lime (juiced)
- 2 tsp ground chilli flakes
- In a non stick pan, without addition of oil, toast the grains of rice until browned. Move to mortar and pestle and finely grind them.
- Combine all ingredients for the dressing as well as the ground rice powder, stirring until everything has dissolved.
- Cooking the chicken:
- In a non stick pan (you can use the same as for the rice) bring 1/4 cup of water to simmer. Add your meat and ‘cook’ it without browning. Stir frequently. Once it is done, move to a bowl and add cut onions, spring onions, cilantro (and mint).
- Pour dressing over it.
- Serve with fresh greens or vegetables.