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.
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?
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
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.
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