How To Make The Best-Ever Laab Gai (Lao Minced Chicken Salad)

Filled with fresh herbs and aromatics, laab is the national dish of Laos and has evolved throughout history through neighboring countries.

Video Transcript

SAENG: Hi, everyone. Saeng here. I'm a chef who specializes in Lao food. And today, we are making the National dish of Laos, and it's called laab. So laab is, like, a tossed mincemeat salad that's filled with a lot of aromatics, herbs, fish sauce, and it's really spicy. It's delicious and pairs so perfectly with sticky rice.

So let's go ahead and get into how to make laab. The first thing you want to do is grab your meat. So today, we're working with a whole chicken thigh, bone-in, skin on. You want all of that when you're working with laab.

First, remove the skin. So go ahead and grab your knife, and then you're just going to gently cut under the skin. And it should come off fairly easy, just like this. I'm pulling with one hand and then gently slicing with the other. So now we have all this chicken skin, and we are actually going to keep this, because we're going to be working with it just a little bit. So we'll put that to the side.

And then with the chicken thigh, let's go ahead and split up the drumstick to the thigh. And that's going to be right in the middle here. And now we're just going to remove the meat off the bones. So I'll use-- I'll work with the thigh first. You'll see that there is a little bit of meat on the bones. And you can try to take as much as you want.

What I like to do is actually, I save the bones for later, and I make it into a stock. Alternatively, you could use ground chicken, but I like using the whole chicken thigh because texture is really important with laab. So now, after you have the meat, we're going to go ahead and slice it up into the really small pieces. So I'm roughly chopping this right now, as you can see.

And you'll see some fat in there, which is great. Fat is flavor. And we're to keep that in there, because it'll help when we cook everything. I have all the meat roughly chopped up like this. After this, you're going to kind of break-- you're going to break up the pieces just a bit more, and you're just going to roughly go back and forth just like this.

And what that's-- what that is doing is creating different textures of the meat. Because if you think of ground chicken, you have one texture. But when you're cutting your own meat and you're doing this, you get a lot of variety. And that's what you want for laab.

And so if you see big chunks, go ahead and pick them apart, then you can just cut them up. And I think cleaver is best just because there's so much space when you're mincing up your chicken. And now let's go ahead and grab the chicken skin. We never throw chicken skin away, it's always useful.

What you're going to do is cut the chicken skin into small slices, about, like, an inch long-- kind of like this. All right, so at this point let's go ahead and cook the ground chicken. So go ahead and grab a large pan, and we're going to put your stove on high. Let this heat up just a bit first, and I'm going to grab some vegetable oil.

Pour a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in there, and swirl all the oil around. So I'm going to wait about a minute or two to make sure that the oil and pan is hot before I put my chicken in there. The pan is hot. You're going to carefully put all the ground chicken in there.

We're going to cook the skin later, so only the ground chicken. And you're going to evenly distribute the chicken in the pan. And we're not going to be doing any seasoning at this point. All we're doing is just making sure that the chicken is fully cooked. And I like to get it to brown just a little bit.

So in order to do that, just let your chicken sit there for about a minute, a minute and a half, and then we'll do some tossing. The chicken has browned on both sides, so now we're just going to stir and make sure that the chicken gets fully cooked. So that's going to be probably about two, three more minutes.

Just make sure that you want to break up the pieces. So I thought two more minutes to let this Cook, then you can just saute this as the two minutes go by. What I'm doing is breaking up the pieces as I mix. I'm just going to what a chill until everything is fully cooked. The chicken is done. It was cooking for five minutes, and then let's go ahead and add it right to the bowl. And then we're going to let this cool off as we work on the chicken skin.

The next step is we're actually going to do a shallow fry of the chicken skin. So essentially, we are making crispy chicken skin. And that's also another element to laab is texture. So we're going to get the crunchy chicken skin. Turn it on high, and then we're going to put a little bit more than usual of vegetable oil, because we want that shallow fry to make sure everything is covered with oil.

And since our pot was already hot, it shouldn't take too long to get it to a high heat. What you're to do is grab some chicken skin, and make sure it's open and flat as possible, and then carefully lay it in there. And you want to watch these carefully, because they can overcook and burn-- so just want a nice golden color.

And be careful-- you might want to stand a little bit away. When you're putting these into the pan, you want to put them away from you into the pan. It's been about a minute and a half, so let's flip each piece of skin. And we'll do another minute to minute and a half. Looks like a lot of them are done, so go ahead and grab a plate with a paper towel on top, and then start finding the ones that are nice and golden and put them on here before they burn.

And go ahead and turn off the heat, now you have these nice, golden chicken skin that are super crispy. The final step for what we need with heat is cooking the sticky rice. So we actually are going to be roasting, sauteing uncooked sticky rice with no oil or anything-- just a dry pan. So go ahead and turn your oven on, on high heat, and then pour it right in there.

We're going to Cook this for about 11 minutes. And you're just going to be waiting here, mixing every minute or two, and making sure nothing burns. But what you're looking for is a nice, dark golden color. So you just want to mix.

And you're going to toss it up every once in a while like this. And so now that we have the nice golden color, go ahead and take it off. And then you're going to pour it right into a bowl. But we are back here. The next step for laab is to work with all the herbs and aromatics.

So as you can see right here, I have a full tray of freshly picked and plucked aromatics and herbs. Let's start with actually galangal. Galangal is somewhat piney smelling, but it's way more dense than ginger. So I'm just going to cut off a little knob-- a little bit goes a long way.

So what you want to do is very carefully cut the skin off. In order to cut galangal, you want to cut it in very thin slices, and then stack the slices, some of them, and then cut them into little matchsticks. So once you have the matchsticks, go ahead and put them together, and then give it a nice mince.

The next thing is lime leaves. So lime leaves-- these types, it's called Makrut lime leaves. These are very different than regular lime leaves. Do not use regular lime leaves for this dish. You must search out for a Makrut lime leaf. These are all over Southeast Asia.

We actually do not eat the limes that come from this tree, but only the lime leaf. So I'm going to go ahead and rip some in half and stack them. So I have a few leaves stacked on top of each other. And then go ahead and mince them.

Next, I would say is birdeye chili. So birdeye chili, the fresh kind is the best to use for this. We're actually going to use a fresh one and also a dried, crush one. So it really depends on your spice level. With the amount that we're using for chicken, I would say about two is good for me. So I'm going to thinly cut them into slices. Next, we have green onions. So go ahead and cut the roots off. And then I like to cut these on a little bias.

And now, we're going to work with cilantro. So for the cilantro, we're using the entire plant, including the stem-- for all the flavors. Just going to have a large bundle and then cut it in half, put it together, and then do a rough cut. And then we have mint leaves.

So mint leaves, we're actually not going to be cutting at all. We want mint leaves in its whole form. So all we're doing is plucking the leaves off. So when it comes to the herb, it's more or less-- depending on who you are, and whether you like things more herbalicious, but I like a lot of herbs in mine. So I'm going to have an abundant amount.

Next, bean sprouts-- and lastly, we're going to cut up the shallots. So we want one large shallot. And for the shell, I like to cut them really thin. That's it. We're going to go grab the chicken and do some mixing and tossing.

OK, so the next step is grabbing your toasted sticky rice, and we're going to turn it into a powder. So go ahead and put it all into a mortar and pestle. Now, you can use a blender or whatever you can use to make it into a powder. I like to use the mortar and pestle because it's a small amount. So we're going to crush it. And so what I'm doing is pounding and also mixing as I push against the edges.

And as you crush, you're going to notice the scent of, like, nutty flavors coming out. And that's what we want in our laab. All right, so everything is cooked, smash, and now it's time to assemble. So go ahead and grab your mince chicken that should have cooled already, grab some of the sticky rice powder-- about a tablespoon, and sprinkle it right on top-- and then we want a pinch of MSG, a pinch of crust dried chili pepper, and then also unfiltered fish sauce.

I like using the pan Thai brand. And then some fish sauce-- you're going to go ahead and grab a glove, do some gentle mixing, get all those flavors really well incorporated into the chicken. So after this, we're going to do all the extra herbs and aromatics. So I'm going to start with a big handful of galangal, another big handful of lime leaves, some green onions, some cilantro, and then a little bit of bean sprouts, some mint, some of the cut up shallots.

Break up the shallots apart, do one squeeze of lime. This is where the fried chicken skin comes in-- add a few of those for the crunch, and go ahead and mix it. I emphasize the light mixing, because we want to keep the cilantro and other herbs intact. We don't want to smash the herbs.

And taste to your liking, you can add more lime if you want, you add more fish sauce. Then I'm going to plate this. I like putting the laab onto one side, and then I like to do an extra garnish of mint. And then those fresh birdeye chili peppers, that also goes right on top.

Side, we can have all the veggies we dream of. So I'm going to put some lettuce on the side, extra herbs and veggies if anyone wants to add it, and then some cucumber. All right, everyone, our meal is done. Lao laab is here, and I am ready to dig in.

So traditionally, you want to eat it with sticky rice. So I already made sticky rice ahead of time. You want to make sure that your hands are very clean, because in Lao cooking, we eat with our hands. Our utensils are pretty much our hands, and our sticky rice becomes like the fork or the spoon also.

So you grab a bunch of sticky rice, you clump it up, and then you dive right into the laab. Get all the pieces that you want-- I'm going to grab some meat, some skin. And then also, I like to take a bite of chili pepper.

I hope you all enjoyed learning how to make laab. It's a great introduction to Lao food, and it's very delicious. All your friends will love it. So until next time, bye.