For brevity, the dish is referred to as porklarbin this blog because that it the name by which it is more popularly known globally.
What is this dish? It is sweet-tangy-salty-spicy minced pork with khao koor (ground toasted sticky rice), basil, mint and chili traditionally served with sticky rice.
What do you need to cook pork larb?
Ingredients may vary depending on the cook and whether the dish is more Thai than Laotian or vice versa. Here’s a list of what we use at home.
Ground pork with at least twenty per cent fat. The meat browns in the rendered fat to give it better flavor. Excess rendered fat soaks up the crunchy toasted rice for even more flavor.
Sticky (glutinous) riceis a special variety of rice. The grains are whiter and more opaque. The grains are toasted until browned then ground until sandy in appearance. This is what gives larb a lovely crunch with every mouthful.
Thesauceis a combination of fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar. I use a 2:2:1 ratio but feel free to find your own flavor balance.
Chili flakesare available in most Asian groceries. Korean groceries rarely run out of the stuff. And that’s what we use at home. Korean chili flakes which aren’t as hot as others but actually rather sweet with a subtle smokiness.
Shallots are small onions but just because an onion is small doesn’t automatically make it a shallot. The most telling characteristic of the shallot is that, like garlic, a single bulb contains two or more cloves or segments. The skin can be reddish, brownish or grayish.
The default greens are Thai basil and mint. We used a combination of Thai and purple basil (because the latter was just begging to be harvested), and spearmint.
How to cook pork larb (laab)
It is best to toast the rice and grind it before you begin the actual cooking. If you prep the rice while the meat is already in the pan, the ground pork will be dry by the time the rice is toasted and pulverized.
Brown the pork in an oil-free pan. If your pork has sufficient amount of fat, there is no need to use oil. The fat will turn into oil as the pork cooks and the rendered fat will be enough to brown the meat. To the browned pork, add chili flakes and the ground toasted sticky rice.
Once the pork, chili flakes and ground toasted sticky rice are blended and the mixture has acquired a homogenous appearance, pour in the sauce and stir.
Take the pan off the stove. Cooling the meat down for a few minutes before adding the herbs is ideal so that the greens retain their color and bright flavors rather than wither in the heat.
The the shallots first. Among the vegetables that are added at this stage, shallot has the highest tolerance for heat. Toss them in to bring the temperature of the pork some more before adding the scallions.
Finally, throw in the Thai basil and mint. Toss everything thoroughly to distribute the greens as evenly as possible.
Pork larb (laab)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked sticky rice
- 250 grams ground pork - with at least 20% fat
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chili flakes - depending on how hot you want your pork larb
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- 2 shallots - peeled and thinly sliced
- ⅓ cup finely sliced scallions - (optional)
- 5 sprigs mint - stripped and stems discarded
- 5 sprigs Thai basil - stripped and stems discarded
- 2 bird’s eye chilies - finely sliced (optional)
- In an oil-free pan, toast the rice over high heat until browned.
- Grind the toasted rice with a mortar and pestle or a mini food processor until sandy (not flour-y) in appearance.
- Spread the ground pork in an oil-free pan and cook until lightly browned underneath.
- Stir, breaking up any lumps, and cook until fat has been rendered and the meat is uniformly browned.
- Add the chili flakes and stir.
- Add the ground rice and stir.
- Stir together the fish sauce, lime juice and palm sugar, pour over the pork and mix well.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir the pork to cool slightly.
- Add the sliced shallots (and scallions, if using) and toss well.
- Add the Thai basil and mint and toss until evenly distributed.
- Optionally, top with sliced bird's eye chilies before serving.