Using finely chopped, grilled chicken breast with shredded banana flower, instead of fish, is a Luang Prabang variation. As is minced beef (buffalo), like tartare, with the addition of fennel seeds and galangal, which in true Laos spirit would come under the hammer of the pestle and be pulverized to something sticky-pasty. The locals would eat this with slices of cucumber and sticky rice - and sometimes lettuce leaves, for wrapping up mouthfuls. Crispy shallots or spring onions can be bought in packets from Oriental stores, and will cut corners.
Wash and rinse the fish, then salt and pepper all over, put on a plate and either steam for 8 minutes or cover with clingfilm and microwave until cooked through — then leave to cool. Flake the meat from the bones and discard the skin. Next, fry the lemongrass and lime leaves in a little oil until slightly frazzled and softened, then drain on kitchen roll. Then fry the garlic until golden - but don’t let it darken - and drain in the same way. Then fry the sliced shallot until crisp, and drain.
Mix the flaked fish with everything above and all the remaining ingredients. Taste and add more fish sauce if it needs a further salting. Divide into four portions and serve with a little more ground rice and shredded chilli scattered on top.
© 2004 Alastair Hendy. All rights reserved.