Thursday, May 19, 2011

ลาบไก่ ไก่งวง

I adore Thai food and wish I had the opportunity to explore it more often. I don't always leave happy when I visit the Thai restaurants in the area, so more often than not, if I want Thai flavors, I have to create them at home. Recently, during one of my regular tours of teh Internets, I spotted a recipe for laap mu, or Thai ground pork salad, that struck me in that, "I have to make this now" way. After checking out several variations on the recipe, including Top Chef Season 1 winner Howard Dieterle's version, I concocted one of my own. I wanted a salad that was spicy and tangy, but also filled with the aromatics like galangal and lemongrass that have made me such a fan of the cuisine.

We are still dealing with that triglyceride thing, so of course pork was out. Chicken (gai) is another meat that would have worked in the dish, but I could only find ground turkey at the Wegman's. (I've purchased sweetbreads there, and they had whole quail, so it seems odd not to have such a basic cut of meat. I probably didn't look in the right place.)

The Thai word for turkey seems to be ki ngwng. Say that five times fast. Hell, say it once. Gai is so much easier.

Pronunciation aside, the problem with turkey - particularly breast meat - is that it is dry. Chia seeds are of no help for this recipe, so if you can find ground turkey that contains some dark meat, or if you can grind up some chicken thighs in the food processor, you'll have a much moister dish. In any case, even with dry turkey breast the flavors were quite nice - aromatic, refreshing, and tart, with a nice chile kick. Serve the laap with lettuce leaves to make wraps, or on a bed of lettuce if you want a more salad-y thing. It's a great meal for a hot summer night and it involves relatively little cooking.

The rice powder and the sauce can be assembled ahead of time, but for the best results, the salad should be dressed just before eating.

Laap Ki ngwng

2 tablespoons raw rice
1 pound ground turkey
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2-3 teaspoons chile sauce (I used Sambal Oelek; Sriracha works too.)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon galangal powder
1 tablespoon lemongrass paste (Gourmet Garden)
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 scallions, chopped
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons chopped mint

Toast the raw rice in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until the rice has started to brown and emit a nutty fragrance. Remove from skillet, allow to cool, and pulverize in a coffee or spice grinder. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine fish sauce, chile sauce, sugar, galangal, lemongrass, and lime juice. Set aside.

Cook the turkey meat in the vegetable oil until cooked through and no longer pink, breaking up clumps with a wooden spoon or the edge of a spatula. Turn off heat. Add half of the fish sauce mixture while the meat is still hot, tossing to combine. Allow the meat to cool for 15 minutes before adding remainder of sauce, plus scallion, shallot, cilantro, and mint. Sprinkle with toasted rice powder before serving.

Serve over lettuce, or use large lettuce leaves as a wrapper for the laab.

With the laab, we ate a simple cucumber salad - sliced cucumber, splashes of lime juice and fish sauce, chopped scallions, cilantro, mint, and peanuts - and steamed Jasmine rice.

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