In Laos, poverty and local goods dictate most meals. The French influence is seen mostly in coffee, wine and baguettes. Laap is the quintessential Laotian dish, often made with raw meat or fish. This recipe for the cooked, chicken version, much like the one I had in Laos, is adapted from Gourmet (September 1999). Laotian cooks use a large, conical steamer basket for steaming the rice, but a footed colander or the steamer insert of a pasta pot works well, too.
Makes 4 servings
For The Laap
4 tablespoons raw Thai glutinous rice*
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced scallion, white and green parts
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped fine
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce*
1 to 2 small (1-inch) fresh Asian chilies such as bird or Thai, minced*
Accompaniments (For Serving)
Fresh mint, basil and cilantro leaves
Tomato and English cucumber, coarsely chopped
2 cups Thai glutinous rice*
Cook the 4 tablespoons of rice in a dry, small, heavy skillet over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes (rice will smoke). Grind to a coarse powder in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.
Thinly slice chicken crosswise and cut slices into thin strips. Season chicken with salt. Heat oil in a wok or heavy skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking, then stir-fry chicken until cooked through, about 2 minutes. Remove chicken from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons rice powder, reserving remainder for another use. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
Mound chicken on a platter and serve with a basket or bowl of sticky rice (see below) and a plate of the herbs, tomato and cucumber.
To make sticky rice, cover the 2 cups rice with plenty of water in a large bowl and soak at room temperature at least 3 hours. Drain and put in a cheesecloth-lined steamer basket. Steam rice, covered, over boiling water until shiny and tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes before serving.
* Available in Asian aisle at supermarket or specialty Asian food stores.