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Thai Chicken Salad | Larb Gai | ลาบไก่

The decision to learn to cook Thai food at home and blog about it was an easy one.  It went a little something like this:

The boyfriend:  “Hey, I have a great idea!”

Me: “Oh yeah?”

The boyfriend: “Yeah!  We should start a Thai food blog!”

Me:  “Oh, okay…”

It sounded like a good idea, a fun project to keep me busy outside of work, so sure, why not?  Clearly, I had no idea of what I was signing on to do at the time!  However, I also didn’t realize how many positive things would come out of this quick decision.

One of the most obvious positives of learning to cook Thai food at home is that it has helped to demystify this cuisine for me (at least a little bit).  Prior to starting on this food journey, the boyfriend would introduce me to a random Thai dish and I’d love it, but have no idea of what was in it or how it was made.

Larb (pronounced laab) was one of those dishes.  I was presented with a plate of luke-warm ground meat with some chopped herbs, dried chilis, and a good amount of what looked like grits mixed into it.  As I eyed it suspiciously, the boyfriend said, “Just try it… it’s good.”  And as this was towards the beginning of our relationship and I was aiming to please, I did just as he said — and was very pleasantly surprised!  This unfamiliar salad made of ground meat was absolutely delicious!

Although I was hooked on larb after that first taste, I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made the dish so delicious.  But now that I have a better idea of what this cuisine is about, I also have a better sense of what makes larb so good.

At its core, this Thai salad really is just a mixture of ground meat and herbs, which doesn’t sound terribly appealing on its own.  But I’ve learned that it’s the other flavors – the salty, sour, and spicy components – that make this dish so delicious.  The lime juice hits your mouth with a burst of sourness, followed by fish sauce with all of its umami-filled saltiness, and finally the chilis with their lingering punch of heat.  And then you feel the pleasant texture of what turns out to be toasted rice powder, not grits, combined with the meat and herbs and oh, it really does make for such a delightful taste!

I’m so pleased to have figured out what’s in this salad and how to make it, that it makes very frequent appearances on my dinner menu.  I tend to make my larb with a lean cut of ground chicken, but a fattier cut of pork is more common in Thailand.  To my lean meat, I sometimes add in coarsely-chopped beech mushrooms that mimic the slipperiness of the fat which would be found in the traditional Thai dish without the guilt, which is a variation that the boyfriend and I both love.

But if the boyfriend hadn’t suggested (and I so easily agreed to) starting this blog, larb may very well have remained a mystery to me.  I’m really glad that’s not the case… and I’m pretty sure that he is too!

Thai Chicken Salad | Larb Gai | ลาบไก่

Makes 2 servings

Thai Chicken Salad | Larb Gai | ลาบไก่

Ingredients

  • 1 cup ground chicken (approximately 1 large chicken breast)
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 2 Tablespoons shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup mint, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted rice powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes

Instructions

  1. If using a whole piece of chicken, chop finely with a sharp knife until it's ground. If using pre-ground chicken, just run a knife through it to ensure no clumps. Feel free to use pork instead of chicken or 1/2 cup ground chicken and 1/2 cup coarsely-chopped beech mushrooms instead of all chicken.
  2. Prepare your herbs by slicing the shallots and chopping the cilantro and mint.
  3. Prepare your toasted rice by heating uncooked sticky rice on medium heat until it turns golden brown. Take off of heat and grind with mortar and pestle, or better yet, a coffee grinder until the rice particles are medium to fine in texture (not too big, but not complete dust either).
  4. Heat a pan to high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons of water (it should sizzle immediately) and then add the ground chicken. Cook until it's done and then transfer to a serving dish. There should still be a little water with the chicken, if there's not, add a tiny bit more.
  5. Add the fish sauce and lime juice to the cooked chicken, starting with 1 Tablespoon of each and adjusting as needed according to your tastes.
  6. Then add the herbs, toasted rice, and chili flakes (again as much as you prefer). Mix everything together and serve with jasmine or sticky rice while still slightly warm.

11 comments… add one
  • antonia July 31, 2017, 4:36 pm

    rachel, thank you for all of the amazing recipes you have put here, and so beautifully presented.
    your photos are stunning and mouth watering and your recipes and simple and accessible.. thank you!
    I adore thai food and now I have a fantastic reference for all the dishes i love…
    cheers
    antonia (from england)

  • Gary Z September 20, 2016, 7:38 pm

    I love Larb! I use my coffee grinder to grind my toasted rice. I use a mini paint brush to clean the powder out of the grinder. The powder is really light and is easy to brush out and leaves no aroma to taint the coffee.
    The one thing I wouldn’t use is chili flakes for heat. I use my mortar and pestle to grind up some Thai chilis. Even a milder jalapeno but never flakes! Otherwise, great recipe!

  • Nikki gast August 28, 2015, 6:21 am

    Love Thai food

  • Stacye November 21, 2014, 2:58 am

    This is my favorite Thai dish! I could eat 3 meals a day! Have you tried adding sliced fresh Thai chiles? (My husband and I love the heat!) but it also adds a bright, fresh flavor.

    • Rachel November 26, 2014, 1:42 am

      I particularly like to fry dried Thai chilis on top for a beautiful presentation, and also a little more heat if you crush them :) I’ll have to try fresh one of these days…

  • Jacey August 25, 2014, 11:01 pm

    Hi Rachel!
    I have been looking for a great Thai cooking website for a long time and I have finally found it! Thanks for all of these great recipes with products that are readily available! Very excited to get cooking!

  • Rachel April 25, 2012, 11:10 pm

    Thanks Adam! Your restaurant patrons who didn’t order this salad are totally missing out… It’s one of my all-time favorites (and I’m sure it would be theirs too if they’d just try it!)

  • Alyssa (Everyday Maven) April 23, 2012, 8:29 pm

    Great idea! Can’t wait to make it :)

  • Adam @Maki Zavelli April 23, 2012, 10:27 am

    Hi Rachel! I work in a Thai kitchen (I’m American) and this has always been the oddest of dishes to me. I always thought we were doing it wrong, so I searched it on foodgawker and didn’t find anything (a while ago). So it was a pleasant surprise to run into your blog post today and find out that you make it almost identical to how we did in our restaurant. (we actually took it off the menu because most Americans are already put off by the name and no one ordered it lol). Anyway, I’m excited to read your blog, because I love your theme; I’m definitely going to follow you :)

  • Rachel April 22, 2012, 8:59 pm

    Thanks Alyssa! I wouldn’t substitute rice flour, but I have used plain jasmine rice to make the rice powder (instead of sticky rice) and it works fine.

  • Alyssa (Everyday Maven) April 22, 2012, 8:55 pm

    Wow this sounds amazing! I love how you lightened it up. I don’t have rice powder but I have rice flour – could I sub that?

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