Chicken lahp with vegetables and variations - lahp gai pak gap
Ingredients for a Lao raw or cooked meat lahp are extremely variable reflecting a cuisine which is prepared with whatever is readily available from the forest, stream or garden. Consider this recipe an outline of fundamentals. Once you get the feel for lahp, experiment with abandon! Serves three to six depending on the number of accompanying dishes.
2 C chicken, boned, including the heart and liver, if desired, cleaned and sliced (or use pre-minced meat if pushed for time)
3 T water
2 cloves garlic, chopped
5 brown or red shallots, finely sliced
3 small red chillies (or 1 t chilli flakes)
1 stalk lemongrass; use only if very fresh and tender (optional)
1 T fish sauce or padek, liquid only
1 – 2 limes, juiced (not used in Luang Namtha lahp, but used elsewhere in Laos)
2 T ground, roasted rice powder
½ C mint leaves, small, rinsed and patted dry
1 C banana flower, finely sliced (optional); soak in acidulated or salted water until ready to use
Other ingredients such as finely shredded kaffir lime leaves, coriander, lemongrass, chopped galangal or bitter small eggplants may be included as desired.
3 small red chillies
Mint sprigs (optional)
Accompaniments: 1 cucumber, thickly sliced; peel only if the skin is tough and bitter
Choose at least three of the following: one large-leafed green such as lettuce, cabbage or pepper (betel) leaves, one bitter or crisp vegetable such as apple eggplants or long beans, cut into 5 cm (2 in) lengths, one or more herbs such as sweet basil (pak boualapha), coriander, sawtooth herb, dill, mint or whole chillies
Prepare the ground, roasted rice powder.
Finely mince the meat to an airy paste using a cleaver or heavy knife. This will take about 10 minutes. The goal is to aerate the meat fully by repeatedly turning the mixture onto itself and mincing until a paste is created. Cover and set aside. Chop the garlic and finely slice the shallots, three chillies and the lemongrass. Set aside.
Remove the mint leaves, tearing them into small pieces if they are larger than a pinkie fingernail.
Prepare all the other ingredients to be mixed with the cooked meat.
Heat a wok or frying pan. Add the minced meat and sliced organs to the dry pan. Do not use any oil.
Move the meat about in the pan, breaking up any lumps. Add a few tablespoons of water to prevent sticking if the meat is very lean. Keep moving the mince until the colour goes out of it. Take care not to overcook, as that will both dry the meat and diminish its flavour.
Transfer the mince to a bowl to cool.
Fry the garlic in 1 teaspoon of oil until slightly golden. Add to the mince.
Add the padek or fish sauce and the optional lime juice. Mix together with your hands, squeezing the ingredients lightly while tumbling. Sprinkle in the sliced lemongrass, shallots and chillies and mix. Add the optional banana flower and any other ingredients being used. Combine. Add the ground, roasted rice powder. Mix, allowing the flavours to integrated juicily.
Taste and adjust the lime juice, fish sauce and/or rice powder. When all is well mixed, toss in the mint, combining lightly. Transfer the lahp to a serving plate and garnish with mint sprigs. Complete by tucking three small red chillies stems or bottoms upright into the surface of the salad.
Wash and trim the accompanying vegetables; slice the cucumber into thick diagonal pieces. Arrange them on a plate along with the herbs. The taste of the herbs is an important part of the lahp dining experience. Do not stint on them. Eat the herbs separately, or one or two may be included in each bite of lahp accompanied by some rice or the vegetable used for scooping the salad.
Serve with sticky rice.
For beef lahp, use steak. For a raw lahp, use only fillet. Hand-mincing the meat will ensure airiness. The lime juice and fish sauce may need to be increased to taste. Beef lahp may be served raw – a Lao steak tartare – or cooked. If using raw meat in lahp, it is essential, of course, the meat be of fine quality from a safe source. This caution is equally important if one is offered raw lahp in a restaurant or home.
For pork lahp, use shoulder meat if possible. Again, by mincing the meat yourself, a fresh, airy lahp is guaranteed. Some pork skin, finely sliced and deep-fried until crisp, can be added to the lahp for additional flavour and texture.