Larb

Fiery Pork Salad

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • A Quick, Albeit Eye-Watering, Supper for

    2

Appears in

Salmagundi

By Sally Butcher

Published 2014

  • About

One’s best beloved selected something like this on one of our first dates. Why do men do that? Order really hot stuff to impress, I mean. It results at best in an unnaturally glowing complexion, and taken to its extreme can kill all possibility of romance. I’m sure you don’t need me to expound on that any further.

This is, heat notwithstanding, an utterly addictive salad – and as you are making it, you can, of course, make it as hot or as mild as you like (use any meat you like – duck or beef both work equally well). The dish is generally known as a Thai speciality, but it does in fact come from neighbouring Laos. Out East, it is often served raw, but raw pork (and chicken) is potentially a killer, so if you don’t mind, out West we will cook it thoroughly.

Larb is often served with sticky rice and Bok l’Hong: Papaya Salad.

Ingredients

  • ½ sheet of pork skin (optional: cheat and use ready-made artisan pork scratchings)
  • sea salt
  • ¼ tsp chilli powder
  • 300 g/10½ oz.minced (ground) pork
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp dried chilli (red pepper) flakes (or more if you’re up for the challenge)
  • 2–3 spring onions (scallion(s)), minced
  • around 2 tbsp cold water
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 3 limes, 2 juiced and 1 to garnish
  • salt
  • 1–2 tbsp.ground roasted rice (khao kua)*
  • big handful of fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped
  • big handful of fresh mint, shredded

Method

First, let’s make some pork scratchings. The authentic ingredient in Laos is boiled pork skin, but I couldn’t get my head or my teeth around that. And who doesn’t like scratchings?

Preheat the oven to 240°C/475°F/Gas mark 9.

Next, place the pork skin (outer skin uppermost) in a colander and pour a kettle of boiling water all over it. Shake the water off, rub the skin with sea salt and chilli, and set it to dry (by an open window is ideal if there aren’t any obvious natural predators in the area). After 15–20 minutes, score through the skin in a criss-cross pattern, place it on a baking sheet, and roast for about 20 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Allow to cool by the aforementioned open window. Once cool, break into 5mm/¼in-ish cubes and set aside until ready.

Mix the minced meat with the garlic, chilli and spring onions, pounding well. Next, heat a wok to smoking point, and throw in the cold water, marvelling at the lovely sizzle it makes. Add the pork mixture, stirring vigorously to stop it sticking, and cook until it is no longer pink (around 5 minutes should do). Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk the fish sauce and lime juice together. When the pork is no longer piping hot, stir the sauce through the meat and season it to taste. Add most of the ground rice, together with the chopped coriander. Serve the still-warm salad garnished with the pork scratchings, some lime wedges, the rest of the ground rice and the shredded mint.

* Ground roasted rice (khao kua)

This is available in Chinese/Thai stores, but it is easy to make your own at home. Just dry-fry a few tablespoons of either jasmine or classic Thai sticky rice in a wok until it assumes a dark brown colour, around 10–15 minutes, stirring constantly. Then grind it into a fine-ish powder in a pestle and mortar or spice grinder. Cool thoroughly and store in an airtight jar until needed.