Laab Gai (Minced Chicken with Herbs)

by Jess on February 8, 2011

in Favorites, Recipes, Salads, Thai Recipes, Weeknight Meals

You may know this as “larb gai” or even as “lahb gai”, but there is an easy(ish) explanation for for the different labels.  As I learned in Day 1 of Thai language class – there is no universal system for transliteration of Thai into latin letters. This means that the mystery of the Thai language is further complicated for foreigners as every entity trying to put Thai into a format that can be read by Westerners has to agree on a pronunciation of each word before transliterating it.  When said by most native Thai speakers, “larb” sounds much more like “laab”.  The double “aa” and the “ah” that are sometimes plugged into the middle of this word serve the same purpose in pronunciation – that when you say the word, you hold out the “ahhhhh” sound.  Clear as mud?  And there you have a glimpse into why I leave every Thai class a bit more confused than when I entered.  The good news is that the “gai” is easy – it means chicken.  (Just be sure to emphasize that “g” so you don’t accidentally say “kai” in which case you’ll be ordering an egg, which would be weird.)

Laab gai is a Thai chicken salad that is simple to make and full of bright, fresh herbs.  Laab is made with a variety of different proteins, although they all contain the same basic additions to add flavor.  Order laab “moo” and you get the salad made with pork, laab “peht” will get you duck.  I’ve also had laab made with mushrooms (and lots of spice) at one of my favorite Bangkok spots – Soul Food Mahanakorn (read about it here).

The fresh herbs are key, so you chop the heck out of them before putting them into the salad.

The only unusual ingredient in this recipe is toasted ground rice, which you don’t need much of, but works as a binding agent and gives the salad a bit of texture and a nutty flavor.  It’s important, so don’t leave it out.  A small bag of ground rice (look for ground glutinous or sticky rice) shouldn’t be expensive and should be relatively easy to find in an Asian market.  It’s also incredibly easy to make if you have uncooked sticky rice laying around.  Just put about a quarter cup of uncooked sticky rice kernels in a pan over medium heat and roast, stirring frequently until they become lightly toasted.  Allow them to cool and grind them up in a food processor or (the old school way) with a mortar and pestle.  It should be a fine powder when you’re done with it.

This salad is traditionally served with sticky rice, but I also love it served on lettuce leaves like those lettuce wraps that are so common (and tasty) at restaurants in the US these days.

 

 

Laab Gai (Minced Chicken with Herbs)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main Dish, Salad
Cuisine: Thai
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 10 mint leaves
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves (center spines removed)
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • 12 oz ground chicken
  • 1 Tbsp. toasted ground glutinous rice
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 1 lemongrass stalk (white part only, outer layer removed), finely minced
  • 1 Tbsp. thinly sliced shallot
  • 3 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
  • ¼ tsp. ground red chili powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • juice from ½ lime
  • lime wedges and extra mint leaves for garnish (optional)
Instructions
  1. Combine the mint, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro and chop until very fine. Set aside.
  2. In a nonstick skillet, cook chicken with 1 Tbsp. water over medium heat. As the chicken cooks, break it apart with a spatula so that it stays in small pieces. Keep the chicken cooking slowly, reducing the heat if it begins to brown. When the chicken is cooked through and still moist (there should be moisture in the bottom of the pan), remove it from heat.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients to the chicken, including the finely chopped herbs, and mix well. Serve immediately, with sticky rice.
Notes
Substitute any protein for the ground chicken in this recipe. Follow the instructions below, replacing the chicken with 12 ounces of ground pork, duck or even minced tofu or mushrooms. (If using tofu or mushrooms, you won’t need to add the extra tablespoon of water when cooking.) If you are absolutely opposed to using fish sauce, I find that this is also delicious with the same amount of soy sauce as a substitute (omit the extra salt from the recipe if using soy sauce).

 

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Eating Bangkok February 9, 2011 at 8:09 am

Ah, you beat me too it as I have my laab (larb, lap, larp, LOL) gai recipe all lined up to post in the next day or two :>)

I simply love this dish as the chicken remains very moist and the herbs give it a fresh taste. We usually eat it with jasmine rice and cucumber, but I think sticky rice would be good also. I like your lettuce wrap idea too and may have to try that or young cabbage leaf wraps. Ever notice how well cabbage cuts through the heat in these Thai dishes?

Have you ever gotten adventurous and eaten any of the raw laab’s? My father-in-law makes laab with raw lamb (I think its lamb) or beef that is amazing. It’s also amazingly spicy and while I do worry a bit about eating the raw meat I am no worse for the wear so far.

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