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Thai-Style Spicy Chicken in Lettuce Cups

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Serves four.

  • by Dawn Yanagihara-Mitchell from Fine Cooking
    Issue 106

This spicy ground-chicken dish is known as larb in Laos and Thailand. It’s often served over lettuce, cabbage, or vegetables, with steamed sticky rice. We like to serve it in lettuce cups for an Asian take on tacos.

  • 3 Tbs. uncooked jasmine rice
  • 3 Tbs. fish sauce
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, outer layers removed, and inner core minced (1 Tbs.)
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. packed light brown sugar
  • 1-1/4 lb. ground chicken, preferably dark meat
  • 1 medium shallot, minced (1/3 cup)
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
  • 3 medium scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 Tbs. coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 medium head butter lettuce, for serving

Toast the rice in an 8-inch skillet over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes (the rice will begin to smoke after a couple of minutes). Let the rice cool slightly and then grind in a spice grinder until the largest pieces resemble very coarse cornmeal; the mixture should not be completely powdery.

Combine the fish sauce, lemongrass, pepper flakes, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup water in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and bring to a simmer over high heat. Separate the chicken into large clumps and add to the pan. Cook, breaking up the chicken into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the meat is no longer pink, 5 to 6 minutes. Sprinkle 1 Tbs. of the ground rice over the chicken and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid in the pan has thickened, about 2 minutes longer.

Remove from the heat. Stir in the shallot. Sprinkle with the lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and mint and stir gently to combine. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with 1 tsp. of the remaining ground rice. Serve with the lettuce leaves on the side to use as cups for the chicken.

Serving Suggestions

Serve with crunchy Thai Radish Salad and Steamed Jasmine Rice.

nutrition information (per serving):
Calories (kcal): 240; Fat (g): 12; Fat Calories (kcal): 110; Saturated Fat (g): 3.5; Protein (g): 27; Monounsaturated Fat (g): 5; Carbohydrates (g): 8; Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 2; Sodium (mg): 1130; Cholesterol (mg): 120; Fiber (g): 1;

Photo: Scott Phillips

Good, but I would slightly reduce the fish sauce and mint next time. I felt they competed with each other too much and overshadowed the other lovely tastes. The toasted rice was a nice crunch to the meal, which we did as lettuce wraps.

Wow! I Love this one. Flavors really deliver ! Gets easier/faster everytime you make it. A few suggestions to consider: #1. Meat. It's sooo good you'll want more. Double-2x the recipe and use half chicken & half pork. #2. Lemongrass. Use the lemongrass in the tube. It's delicious and quick. #3. Jasmine rice. Roast/grind 1/2-cup of rice and save in a ziplock bag for a few more runs at this savory delight. Hope that helps. Cheers! David

Very tasty, easy week-night dish. I thought that all of the flavors melded perfectly. I made the rice, added it as a thickener, but forgot to add it at the end. I didn't really miss it. As a side, I made a green bean salad with an Asian vinaigrette. It went really well with the addition of some jasmine rice.

easy, tasty, excellent

Thank you for this recipe! This larb is heavenly! So many tastes going on in the mouth at once. Ground my own chicken and followed the recipe exactly - including the toasted and ground rice. Can't wait to make it again!

There was a bit too much fish sauce in this dish. It overpowered all the other flavors. We really did not like it.

This is a pretty good recipe-I make a similar one with the same ingredients, but a different technique (I fry the chicken and then add the liquids as a dressing). If you want your dish to have the unique flavor of Thai cooking, you must roast and grind the jasmine rice. That step is what really gives this dish it's charm. I love larb-easy to make, low fat and sooo delish.

This was good and easy, great healthy weeknight dinner. But I really didn't get the whole rice thing. The chicken didn't seem to need thickening after it had cooked for a bit, and the ground rice added on top at the end just gave the dish a strange grittiness. Will totally skip that (time-consuming) step next time.

Great recipe for the summer--quick to make, ingredients not too exotic to have on hand. It tasted exactly like the chicken lettuce cups you would be served at a Thai restaurant. If we had any left over, it would travel well for packable lunches.

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