Chicken Larb (Don’t call it a meat salad)
Larb is one of my favorite dishes in the wide world. It’s a type of Lao “meat salad” that I first encountered in Thai restaurants. The taste is fresh, bright and explosive – and the nutritional profile is a number one stunner. When made with boneless, skinless chicken breast it contains almost no fat, very little carbs and 17 million flavor watts. It’s truly a guilt-free meal that feels like indulgence. It’s also fun. And I love fun.
You can make larb with pork, tofu (it’s great with tofu!), or chicken. It can also be made with duck, turkey, beef or fish (though I’ve not tried those varieties). So, when you’ve got protein laying around, Larb is a kick-ass option for giving it new life. I’ve made Larb twice in Arizona and both times I used leftover meat that we had grilled the day before for another meal.
Finally, Larb is easy. Stupid easy. Crazy easy.
- 1 Lb Boneless, skinless chicken (minced in a food processor – I used my VitaMix cuz it’s all I have here, yo)
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon roasted rice powder (you can grab this in Asian markets or you can make your own by roasting raw rice in a dry skillet till brown and then mashifying in a spice grinder)
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 spring onions, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped shallots
- 4 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon garlic paste
- 8-10 big, sexy leaves of butter lettuce (cabbage is a nice option, too)
- Heat skillet over medium heat. Use a little olive oil on a brush to non-stick-ize the pan if your pan is not naturally non-stickized. When the oil is fragrant…
- Add chicken and stir until cooked through
- Remove from the heat, drain the excess liquid.
- Add fish sauce and lime juice.
- Toss together with cilantro, onion, shallots, mint, cayenne, rice powder, and garlic paste.
- Arrange lettuce leaves on plate like cute little cups.
- Fill cute cups with your Larb of Amazingness
- Devour like rabid coyotes.
*Check out the variations, substitutions, and creative interpretations below for more ideas.
Variations, Substitutions and Creative Interpretations
Traditionalists will kill me for this section, but I don’t care. Cooking is about having the basic skills and know-how to use what you have in your kitchen to make yourself something delicious. Sometimes you don’t have fresh onions. Sometimes you’re missing mint. It’s ok. I swear to god. It will be ok. You gotta learn not to freak out. You gotta learn to roll with it.
- You cannot make this recipe without the fish sauce. Other than that, things get pretty flexible. Many would argue that the lime is essential, but I’m even flexible there…
- VEGGIFY: This is great with tofu. I slice my tofu into pieces and sear them over a lightly oiled skillet before chopping it up to mix with the other ingredients. I enjoy a slightly crispy golden “edge” to my tofu.
- In a pinch, don’t worry if you don’t have the rice powder. Each ingredient in this recipe is there for a reason but I assure you, you will still have a delicious meal on your hands if you are forced to leave one or two out.
- I’ve occasionally left the mint out. It definitely loses something but, again, still good.
- Fish sauce – be careful with your measurement there: that stuff is loaded with sodium.
- No limes? I HATE when I run out of limes. I suppose a lemon would work in a pinch. You need something citrusy and bright. Don’t freak out.
- Meat: Cooking your meat fresh and mixing the sauce into it definitely yields the best flavor, but if you’ve got already cooked meat in your fridge go ahead and use it. I chop the crap out of mine with a sharp, motorized food-destroying type machine like a processor or vitamix. Then I just start the recipe at #4.
- No butter leaf lettuce or other cup-like leaf? Try it as a regular salad over spinach leaves. Still feels special though loses a little fun factor.
- Need carbs? Last night I made pork larb but we’d had a big workout and needed to throw some carbs in the mix. I cooked up a few servings of soba (buckwheat) noodles and presented them, cold, in the larb construction zone. I simply added some soba to each of my larb boats and easily got a full serving of delicious, healthy buckwheat lovin’. It was great. I could see rice noodles being even better, though less healthy.
I didn’t run exact calculations for this, but chicken larb made with boneless, skinless breasts clocks in at somewhere around 200 calories. No, really, just 200. It’s just 4 or 5 oz of chicken breast with a bunch of veggies/herbs and a few pieces of lettuce. Now, that’s some flavor bang for your buck! Adding a serving of soba offered 190 or so more calories, for a pretty well-rounded meal.
As I mentioned earlier, watch the sodium content in this recipe – the fish sauce is a kicker.