Lao Chicken Laap (Larb, Laab)

DSC_0036_2_2Laap or Laab is the national celebratory dish of LaosIt is a flavour experience everyone remembers and not a scrap is left on the plate when I make it for friends.

Laap is essentially a fresh herb infused salad made from raw meat or fish which is cured in lime juice and mixed with chopped herbs and roasted rice powder. More recently, it has become popular to cook the meat element first.

Everyone has their own recipe for Laap and during my stay in Laos I was to eat it raw, cooked, made with deer, duck, just with offal, with and without lime, with galangal, with different herbs, with raw aubergines; the list goes on and on.

My friend Vandara who runs the Vanvisa Guesthouse in Luang Prabang showed me this recipe. It is achievable in a Western kitchen being neither raw or containing the fermented fish condiment, paa-dek.

I simply roast a whole chicken with a drop of oil and salt and pepper, then chop it up, while still warm, for this dish. It is important to include the tastier dark meat as breast alone is really too bland and dry.. You can cut out the liver if you so prefer.  Follow recipe as below:

1 1/2lbs free-range tasty chicken cooked as above.

4 tablespoon Asian coriander, finely chopped

1 tablespoon spring onion, finely chopped

2 red chillis (optional)

2 inch piece galangal, peeled and finely sliced.

3 stalks lemongrass, finely chopped

2 tablespoon fish sauce or paa-dek water

2 tablespoon lime juice or more to taste

2 tablespoon roasted rice powder (see below)

1/2 lb chicken liver, cooked (optional)

1 banana flower bud, very finely sliced or half a small white cabbage (optional)

a large handful of mint leaves, roughly torn

Take the roasted chicken and remove the crispy skin, then every scrap of meat and transfer to a plate.  Slice the skin finely, then chop the meat with a cleaver or heavy knife until you have a fine mince. Take the cooked liver and chop that up too. Do not use a food processor as the meat will tear and go gooey.  Put the chopped meat into a large bowl, and set aside the chopped liver in another bowl.

Add the finely chopped coriander, spring onion, chilli and galangal to the bowl of minced chicken.  Add the fish sauce and lime juice and mix to your taste.  I prefer more lime, Vandara prefers more fish sauce.

Now add the chopped liver, banana flower/cabbage and the rice powder (if you add these ingredients earlier they soak up all the lime and fish sauce and spoil the dish.)

Mix in the mint, add more lime if you wish and serve with a plate of salad, raw vegetables and a bowl of clear chicken soup.  I like to scoop it into the crunchy salad leaves before I eat it. Yum. 

Roasted Rice Powder

This can be bought in packets in Asian stores but it does not smell the same so it is better to make it on the day.   Here is how to make your own.

Place a couple of handfuls of uncooked rice (sticky rice if possible) into a dry wok or skillet on a medium heat.  Roast the rice, shaking the wok frequently and stirring with a wooden spoon to cook it evenly.  The rice is done when it looks toasted and golden brown (though some Laotians prefer to cook it to a dark brown colour), transfer it to a bowl to cool.  Grind the roasted rice in a coffee grinder or pound in a pestle and mortar to a fine powder. Store in a jar.

A view of the Mekong River at Luang Prabang in...

A view of the Mekong River at Luang Prabang in Laos. (late August 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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