25 June 2010

Unforeseen circumstances

Due to unforeseen circumstances (read: I misplaced my camera), there will be no pictures of Larb today. In fact, the only picture that is at all food related and not ugly is this:

This is a blackberry clafoutis made in February or March of this year when I unaccountably found fresh, U.S.-picked blackberries at 99 cents for a six-ounce clamshell or some similarly ridiculous price. They were slightly bland, but dumped in an eggy, creamy batter, they were delicious.

Anyway... Larb. I wish I did have a picture; there's something magical about drab, poached pork playing dress-up with fresh herbs and spices. I toast my own rice, because I like to control the texture and the nuttiness. Also, mise en place is a must with this and many other Southeast Asian dishes - I like to use a big cutting board and have lots of little piles building up. It's fantastic with a fresh green papaya salad, but alas, no green papayas or green mangos were to be found at the market last night.

recipe: my own, adapted from a half-dozen different places

3 T long-grain white rice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes, plus additional for serving
4 T fish sauce (I use Squid brand)
3 T fresh lime juice
1 T palm sugar (I have a container of little balls of the stuff, and I use about one)
2 T bland oil, such as peanut or grapeseed
1 lb ground or minced pork
1 2" length lemongrass, minced, or one lime leaf, finely sliced
4 green onions, light green and green parts only, finely sliced
4 T minced fresh cilantro
3 T minced fresh mint
3-4 shallots, finely chopped

Toss the rice in a large, dry wok over medium heat. Toast, stirring regularly, until the rice is golden brown and your kitchen smells nutty - watch closely to for smoke. Cool in a mortar, then carefully grind the rice into small pieces. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Add the chile flakes to the mortar and grind to a rough powder to release their flavor, then set aside.

Mix the fish sauce and lime juice in a small bowl. Crumble about half the sugar into the bowl and mix well - you may need to chop it up if the sugar is really dry. Taste and add more sugar if desired.

Reheat the wok over medium-high heat. When nearly smoking, add the oil, whirl it around, and toss in the pork. Add 2-3 tablespoons water, if desired, and stir regularly, breaking up the pork as needed. When the meat is cooked through but not yet browned, remove from the heat and toss with the chile, lemongrass, green onion, and about 2/3 of the fresh herbs. Add about half the dressing and 2T of the toasted rice and toss again to mix well.

Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. You may want the rest of the mint or more sugar; you may want more dressing or just a splash of fish sauce. I always add more chile powder to mine, usually right at the table. I also generally add the leftover toasted rice to any leftover larb, as it loses a lot of crunch overnight.

Serve warm with sticky rice, lettuce leaves, and ideally a green papaya salad.
Serves 3-5

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