Most of the world knows pork larb as a Thai dish but, if we’re to be politically correct, it originates from Laos where it is called pork laab. What is this dish? It is sweet-tangy-salty-spicy minced pork with khao koor (ground toasted sticky rice), mint, cilantro and scallions traditionally served wrapped in lettuce leaves. For brevity, the dish is referred to as pork larb in this blog because that it the name by which it is more popularly known globally.
Despite what the high-and-mighty purists claim, there is no singular version of pork larb. All versions have a few common denominators though — the overall flavor of the dish is a combination of pungent (from the fermented fish sauce), salty (also from the fermented fish sauce), spicy (hot, to be more precise, due to the presence of chilies), tangy (there is lemon or lime juice) and sweet (a little palm sugar is added).
My version is based on a recipe from Luke Nguyen’s Greater Mekong TV show. In one episode dedicated to Laos and Laotian cuisine, the chef visited an iconic eatery in the nation’s capital, Vientiane, famous for its pork laab. But because I intended to serve the dish with rice, I omitted the khao koor which, under the circumstances, would have been redundant.
To make this dish really work, you need broth that is highly spiced with ginger and lemongrass. I use only homemade broth but I don’t normally add ginger and lemongrass. So, I improvised by adding the ginger and lemongrass during the cooking.
Thai pork larb (Lao pork laab)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 200 grams pork shoulder (or other tender pork cut), minced
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger (with the juice)
- 1 stalk lemongrass finely chopped
- patis (fish sauce) to taste
- 1/2 cup pork broth
- 200 grams pork liver minced
- 1/3 cup chopped mint
- 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/3 cup chopped scallions
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 2 bird's eye chilies finely sliced
- lemon or lime juice to taste
- 1 pinch sugar or to taste
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok. Add the minced pork and stir fry just until the meat is no longer pink.
- Add the ginger and lemongrass, and a splash of fish sauce. Cook until the meat has soaked up the fish sauce.
- Pour in the broth. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes. That's all the time that minced pork needs to cook.
- Add the liver to the wok. Season with a little more fish sauce. Turn up the heat to medium and continue cooking just until the liver is done and the mixture is almost dry.
- Cool the meat. This is essential because you don't want the fresh herbs to wither in the heat when added to the meat.
- When the meat has cooled, toss with the mint, cilantro, scallions, onion, chilies, lemon or lime juice and sugar.
- Optionally top with crisp onion slices before serving.