My glorious and assuredly over-stuffed Citizenry! It is the day after Thanksgiving, and the Samdach of Serenity, the Bodhisattva of Balance – YOUR TFD! – is here to the rescue to offer you the balm of palatal Bicarbonate, metaphorically speaking!
Whilst I love turkey with all the trimmings as much as the next red-blooded American, I am now (like you) sleeping off the meal and am overwhelmed by the fat and richness of the feast. As such, I desperately crave some serious spice and funky/sharp flavors to cleanse my palate and prepare for the next wave of feasting at the end of the month!
To that end, I shall endeavor to share with you my preferred recipe for Laotian duck larb, a cool and spicy meat salad with potent herbs that hits every flavor note I crave – and unlike beef larb, it is not served raw! Join with me as we paddle the virtual Mekong River and prepare the most authentic larb a Westerner could ever hope to enjoy! Why do I qualify myself in this way – because I have it on no small authority (my own) that most Westerners don’t enjoy eating insects, something all self-respecting Lao do in their larb.
Fear not, my version is bug-free, but as noted for your reference on zap.la in a (translated) recipe for beef larb – ½ tsp. of aphids or beetles are also called for in the recipe to add a bitterness that the Lao appreciate.
Now – I will be the first to admit that crushed raw bugs as part of a dish where the beef is also served raw AND with chopped raw entrails is an issue even for the cast iron stomach of TFD, but I remind you that we eat entrails as part of the classic Thanksgiving feast! After all, giblets ARE entrails – they just happen to be chopped (and cooked) and they add a meaty richness that none of us would trade for the world!
Again – my version of duck larb is cooked, bug-free and is very palate-friendly to Westerners, so fear not!
Larb (Lao: ລາບ; Thai: ลาบ) is a type of Lao meat salad that is regarded as the unofficial national dish of Laos. It is also eaten in the Isan region, an area of Thailand where the majority of the population is of the Lao ethnicity, and among the Hmong people, an ethnic minority group in both Laos and Thailand. Local variants of larb also feature in the cuisines of the Tai peoples of Shan State, Burma, and Yunnan province, China. The word ‘larb’, although seemingly a cognate of the Laotian and Thai words for “luck”, actually comes from a Lanna (Northern Thai) word meaning ‘to mince meat’.
Larb is most often made with chicken, beef, duck, fish, pork or mushrooms, flavored with fish sauce, lime juice, padaek (a type of fermented fish sauce), roasted ground rice and fresh herbs. The meat can be either raw (beef, deer or fish) or cooked (wild duck, wild chicken); it is minced and mixed with chili, mint and, optionally, assorted vegetables. Roughly-ground toasted rice (khao khoua) is also a very important component of the dish. The dish is served at room temperature (I prefer it lightly-chilled) and usually with a serving of sticky rice and raw or fresh vegetables.
As noted on wise-geek.com:
Larb is a meat dish. In fact, almost any type of protein can be used, from pork to duck and even fish. The meat is most commonly minced or ground, but it can also be prepared sliced or diced. There are also several raw meat preparations, so it is well advised to inquire when ordering this dish at a restaurant.
The heat in larb comes from chili pepper, either fresh, dried, or in paste form. The dish also has a sour taste, with acid from lime juice and sometimes lemongrass. Other flavorings vary by region, and may include pungent fish sauce.
All of the ingredients are cooked together with an aromatic vegetable, usually finely diced onion but also perhaps shallot or green onion. Although uncommon outside of Laos and Thailand, strictly traditional larb also incorporates coarsely ground toasted rice. The dish is finished with a generous garnish of fresh torn mint, cilantro, or basil leaves. Other finishing touches might include chopped roasted peanuts or crispy-fried garlic chips.
The cooked concoction is usually served at room temperature. It is almost always served with a side of assorted raw vegetables, such as string beans, shredded cabbage, or papaya. A very popular vegetable accompaniment is large leaves of lettuce onto which scoops of larb are laid and wrapped to be eaten without utensils.
Now, as to my version of larb – it is by now familiar to all Citizens of TFD Nation that Your Glorious Leader has…a certain monomaniacal streak when it comes to authenticity and this recipe is no different, although I will make allowances for Western palates in my take on this delicious appetizer!
First off – you’ll need to get a hold of a duck, whether fresh or already cooked is up to you. The roast ducks sold in Chinese delicatessens and supermarkets would work very well indeed if you wish to save some steps. If you go that route, however, you will need to purchase at that same supermarket some duck gizzards and livers from the butcher. If you MUST, you can skip the liver/giblet combo but the final dish will lack the savor a Lao (and TFD!) would expect.
Second, you’re going to need fresh herbs, garlic and hot Thai chili peppers – the small kind known colloquially as ‘bird peppers’ or less enticingly ‘rat dropping peppers’. Any Asian market will carry them in bulk, along with peeled garlic (a great timesaver as long as it’s fresh and not yellowing or wrinkled).
Lao cuisine makes extensive use of a seasoning called padek, which is fermented whole pieces of Mekong river fish fermenting in a murky and rather scary brine. As scary as the jar seems, it is WAY scarier once you open it – the smell would easily gag a hippopotamus at 50 paces. This is basically Southeast Asian surströmming – number 1 on my top 5 “won’t eat again” list!
As such, I instead recommend using top-quality fish sauce blended with even more-top-quality anchovies as a more olfactory-friendly alternative – and it WORKS! This is my preferred brand of fish sauce and anchovies. Fresh Kaffir lime leaves are a NECESSITY in the dish – thankfully, you can buy organic fresh leaves from here.
One of the most important flavor notes in the symphony that is larb is roasted sticky rice – while you can buy it online, it is never fresh and can’t compete with homemade – and it is super-simple to make! Simply dry roast raw sticky rice grains in a medium-hot skillet, stirring constantly until it turns light brown and toasty – about 10-15 minutes. Then, just grind it up in a spice grinder and you’re good to go – save the rest for another dish, as it keeps for a few weeks in a spice jar away from light. Buy the raw sticky rice here.
Since you are (probably) using a pre-cooked duck, this dish comes together in a flash – and even if you’re working with it raw, it STILL comes together quickly and can be made easily in advance. Citizens, larb is one of my all-time favorite appetizers and I hope you see fit to trying my truly-authentic version at your earliest opportunity! 🙂 It would be an amazing accompaniment to this Lao dish as part of a multi-course Lao feast!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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