This chicken larb recipe is packed with bright, beautifully contrasting flavors and quickly comes together for a delicious weeknight dinner.
What is larb
Larb is a kind of Lao meat salad; in fact, larb is the national dish of Laos. This dish is also eaten in other Southeastern Asian countries, like Thailand, where Lao have migrated. Larb gai is very popular in Thailand.
We use ground chicken for this recipe but ground pork, beef, duck, or even mushrooms can all be used in larb.
While the term meat salad isn’t very common to most Americans, larb is delicious and so easy to make. It consists of ground meat, chilies, fish sauce, lime juice, herbs, and toasted ground rice.
What I love most about larb is the balance of flavors. The ground meat is cooked so there are lots of little crunchy bits, dressed in umami-rich fish sauce. Lime juice brings acid, chilies bring some heat, the toasted rice adds a nice crunch, and herbs add brightness. Simply delicious.
I love making larb in the summertime and on days when I don’t feel like cooking. It comes together very quickly, involves minimal prep and cook time, and is healthy and nutritious.
Toasted rice: Don’t skip the toasted rice! Take ¼ cup of uncooked long grain jasmine rice (or sticky rice if you have it) and toast it on low heat for roughly 10 minutes until it’s golden brown. Once grinded up, the texture and toastiness it adds to the larb is amazing.
Ground chicken: I use store-bought ground chicken, but usually larb is made from hand-mincing it yourself. I took the lazy route, but using hand-minced chicken thigh gives the same taste but a different texture. You can make larb with proteins like pork, beef, turkey and duck. Easily swap out meat for a plant-based alternative like tofu or mushroom.
Shallot: because shallot is always a good choice.
Oil: any neutral oil will work.
Fish sauce: This brings the funk and the umami (thank you glutamate we love you) that makes larb delicious. Fish sauce is a condiment made from salted and fermented fish or krill (tiny crustaceans). You might notice that we don’t add any salt to the chicken because fish sauce is already very salty.
Limes: Lime juice adds the necessary acid to balance the dish.
Bird’s eye chilies: What is larb without chilies? If you can’t find Thai bird’s eye chilies or you are heat-adversent, serrano is a good alternative.
Herbs: Cilantro and mint add a burst of brightness.
Cucumber: This isn’t necessary, but I love the added freshness and water cucumber adds.
Lettuce: Bib, butter, or boston leaf lettuce work best for larb because they have a natural cup shape.
How to make larb
First step of this larb recipe is to toast the rice. Set a dry wok or pan on low heat and toast the rice, stirring frequently, until it’s fragrant and golden, about 10 minutes.
Use a mortar and pestle to grind to a coarse powder. Set aside while you prepare the rest of the larb.
For this chicken larb recipe I use ground chicken, but you can also use boneless chicken thighs and hand-mince. Both are delicious. The main difference is that they have a slightly different texture.
Heat your work or pan over medium high heat and add a couple tablespoons of oil. Throw in the shallots and cook for a minute. Add the ground chicken and stir fry until browned and slightly crispy. Next, you will add lime juice, fish sauce, and sugar.
Cook for another minute and then add about half of the toasted rice powder.
Usually at this point, it is common to stir in the chilies, herbs, and green onion. We like to leave those on the side so you can add as little or as much of each thing to your lettuce cup. But if you would rather stir it in, go wild. It will still be super delicious.
Serve larb in lettuce cups topped with onion, chilies, green onion, mint, cilantro, cucumber, and a squeeze of fresh lime.
How do you eat larb
Larb can be served with rice, sticky rice or raw veggies like fresh lettuce. In Laos, folks eat larb alongside sticky rice and green papaya salad.
We think the cold, crunchy lettuce acts as the perfect vessel for the fragrant larb. For those of you trying to avoid carbs, larb in a lettuce cup is a great option that doesn’t compromise on flavor.
Bib, butter, or boston leaf lettuce work the best as they have a natural cup shape that holds the larb well.
- 1 wok or large skillet
- ¼ cup uncooked rice (jasmine, white or sticky rice)
- 2 tb vegetable oil
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- 1¼ – 1½ lbs ground chicken
- 2 – 3 tb fish sauce
- 2 limes juiced
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 – 3 bird's eye chilies serrano or other chili will also work
- ½ English cucumber thinly sliced
- 4 scallions thinly sliced
- ¼ cilantro chopped
- ¼ mint chopped
- bib, butter or Boston lettuce
- In a dry pan or wok, toast the rice. Continuously stir until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and grind in a mortar and pestle (or spice grinder). Set aside while you prepare the larb.
- Heat your pan or wok over medium-high heat and add the vegetable oil. Once hot, add your shallot and cook for about a minute. Add the ground chicken and stir fry until brown and crispy. Next, add in the sugar, fish sauce, and lime juice.
- Cook for another minute, add in half of the toasted rice and stir. Taste for seasoning and remove from heat.
- Serve in a lettuce cup topped with your desired amount of scallions, cilantro, cucumber, mint, bird’s eye chili, more lime juice, and more toasted rice. Service with rice or sticky rice if desired.