This is a classic Thai dish, combining as it does the salty, sweet, sour, and spicy tastes that define Southeast Asian cooking. In Thai it is known as Laab Gai. I find that if I ask people who have spent extended periods in Thailand, particularly in the north or north-east, that they will often name this as their favourite dish. It’s certainly a spicy dish, and yet manages to be refreshing at the same time, it makes a great appetiser and even the non-heat lovers will be tempted to try a spoonful and will find there is a lot going on here apart from the heat!
This version of the dish owes much to the way it is prepared in Laos and I find that the easiest way to make this is to use the Crying Tiger sauce. (The recipe for Crying Tiger beef is here.) The ingredients it contains are almost identical to those that you would need to make Laab from scratch, in particular the toasted rice powder and toasted galangal, so often left out in Western recipes for this dish. The addition of lime and fresh herbs tone down the spiciness of the Crying Tiger sauce compared to using it as a dip for grilled meats. Even so, this is still a spicy dish but a non-spicy Laab would be a crime committed on one the world’s great taste experiences!
The following quantities will make four servings as an appetiser.
500 g chicken breast.
A small bunch of mint and coriander.
A small red onion and two limes.
One packet of Crying Tiger sauce, or just use half a pack if you really prefer less spicy.
This is best served warm straight after cooking. If all the ingredients are prepared beforehand, the actual cooking only takes a few minutes.
I prefer to chop the chicken for this by hand rather than use minced chicken as it results in a better texture. Using a meat cleaver or large heavy knife slice and then chop the chicken as shown in the pictures below. You should be aiming for a reasonably coarse cut, not too finely minced. You could also use a food processor to roughly chop the meat but be careful not to over process the meat.
Heat a nonstick pan without adding any oil and stir fry the minced meat over a medium heat. The aim is to cook the chicken but not to caramelise it. You can add a spoonful or two of water if needed, just keep stirring and breaking up the clumps of chicken as they form. Depending on your heat it should really only take a few minutes.
If you find yourself with a lot of liquid in the pan after cooking then drain some off, leaving no more than a tablespoonful or so behind. Remove from heat. Add the juice of 1 lime and stir through. Add the Crying Tiger sauce and stir though.
Add the remaining ingredients and sir through.
Taste it to see if more lime is required, the lime should not be too subtle here.
Serve while the dish is still warm. The traditional way to serve this is with Thai sticky rice which is eaten by hand. An alternative is to serve it with small lettuce leaves and eat it by spooning some of the chicken salad onto a lettuce leaf before transferring it to your mouth! And of course you can just get stuck in with a fork. Whatever way you serve it make sure you have some lime pieces on the plate for people to squeeze to their own taste. The whole red chillies are just there for decoration, you don’t need them, trust me, this dish is spicy enough without them!