Thursday, June 18, 2015

Week 21 - Ground Meat

I was very excited about the theme for Week 21 - ground meat. This was a pretty easy challenge to do, since a lot of the meat we cook with at home is ground meat, but I had decided that I was going to finally try my hand at making one of my favorite dishes ever - larb gai (chicken larb). Our pantry doesn't have an extensive collection of Thai ingredients, but somehow everything came together perfectly just in time to make this (more on that later). My inspiration and guide was this recipe from I didn't follow it exactly (obviously, since I used chicken instead of pork), but also worked with what I had to use and what I could remember from my years of being obsessed with larb.


The ingredients I used were:

- about 1 lb of ground chicken ($7.31) *
- 1 tbsp of roasted rice powder ($0.15) **
- 1 tbsp of Thai ground chili flakes ($0) ***
- pinch of sugar ($0.05)
- 1 tbsp of fish sauce ($0.25)
- 3 tbsp of lime juice ($0.40) ****
- 2 small shallots ($0.50) *****
- 1/2 bunch of cilantro ($0.50)
- 4 scallions ($0.45)
- about 20 leaves of fresh mint (which was most of our small batch) ($1)

* I should have just gone to Trader Joe's to get ground chicken where it would have been cheaper, but I went to Whole Foods since it was closer. I commented that this better be the best ground chicken ever for that price. Since I liked how the larb turned out, I guess it was worth it, but I will not be doing that again.

** I picked up this roasted rice powder weeks earlier in Chinatown for the "eventual day" when I would decide to make larb. Sure, I could have just bought sticky rice, toasted it, and ground it, but I am so slow in the kitchen that I need some time savers.

*** The inspiration recipe said this ground chili is known as prik bon. I don't really know since I didn't go buy any. A had ordered lunch one day from one of the Isaan Thai restaurants we like, and they gave him that little pouch of ground chili that you see in the photo. It was just enough for 1 tbsp. We probably would have added a little more if we had more, but we didn't. We really need to get some, because otherwise, I can't make more larb. I can't just rely on our takeout orders...

**** Next time, I will use at least 1 fresh lime and then just supplement to taste with our standby lime juice. I think it would be a lot easier.

***** I used these shallots because we had them. They were too small to really achieve the effect they should have. I should have used some red onion (1/4-1/2 of a "normal" sized red onion), or a lot more (and fresher) shallots.

The price for our larb that night ended up being approximately $10.61 (although we didn't pay for the ground chili, I cannot imagine that would add that much to the cost). Considering at a lot of places larb gai these days runs for about $10, that's really not bad considering how much more larb we got from making it at home. It was at least twice as much as you get from a restaurant for the same price. Also, remember, that's with the pricey Whole Foods ground chicken included in the price, so it could be even less with more affordable meat. We paired it with some Calrose rice, which didn't add more than another dollar, so it's less than it would be to get that side of rice at the restaurant too.

Cooking Process

These were the steps for making the larb, and here I stuck more closely with the recipe I was using as my guide.

1. Prep - chop up shallots (or onions), cilantro, scallions, and tear mint leaves into smaller pieces.

2. Coat a large pan with oil and then add the ground chicken. Stir fry and break up the meat as it cooks. Stir fry until it is fully cooked and then remove from heat.

3. Add the roasted rice powder, chili flakes, sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, and all the prepped vegetables. Mix together well and taste. Adjust any seasonings if necessary. (I mostly added some more lime juice, since I didn't have any more chili to add.)

I am drooling looking at this picture...


As I tasted the larb in progress, I could feel myself getting more and more excited. I couldn't believe it, but the flavors of this larb were so spot on with the larb we get at our favorite Thai restaurants. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but it was my first try. Next time, we could add more chili to make it a little spicier. It needed more liquid than I had used, so next time we'd probably proportionally use more fish sauce and lime juice. Also, of course, the onions or shallots change I mentioned before, since the shallots didn't really add much here. But wow, that was way better than I thought my first larb experiment would be. I was on cloud nine for the rest of the night and could not stop thinking about larb. Now I can make it whenever I want it (which is often) and can have so much more of it. We just have to go out and get some ground chili!

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