We don’t do a lot of Thai cooking at home, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me. In our house, we tend to think of Thai cooking as an option more when the weather is cold; the fiery curries and thick, creamy coconut sauces that make up the bulk of our typical Thai takeout order don’t exactly scream “summertime refreshment.”
But why not? After all, it’s hotter than the sins of all blackest hell in Thailand most of the time, right? And the other flavors that we tend to associate with Thai cooking are certainly lighter. Lemongrass, cilantro, lime; they all carry a sense of fragrant freshness, of light meals in warm climates, of sweaty backs in linen shirts.
We take our cue for Thai Larb, a mince of chicken, lemongrass, and Thai chiles, drizzled in Sriracha and scooped up with lettuce leaves, from the ancient, grizzled street vendors of Thailand, where a 20 baht note will buy you a quick meal, a shot of cobra’s blood, and an unforgettable weekend, provided you don’t let traditional Western notions of hygiene and gender identity get in your way.
Our recipe captures the spirit and history of that storied land, which is to say that it’s similar to how they make the “Chang’s Chicken Lettuce Wraps” at the P.F. Chang’s where I saw Alice Cooper that one time, located across from Flapper’s Discount Comedy Club in downtown Burbank. Enjoy.
- ⅓ cup fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
- 1½ pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste
- Zest from one lime
- 1 small red Thai chile, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
- 8 small iceberg lettuce or hearts of romaine leaves
- ¼ cup chopped peanuts
- Sriracha, to taste
- Cilantro leaves and stems, roughly torn
- Stir all ingredients in a small bowl to blend; set dressing aside.
- Combine first 8 ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, and pulse until chicken is chopped. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet over medium–high heat. Add chicken mixture and sauté, breaking into small bits, until chicken begins to brown, about 8 minutes.
- Place 2 lettuce leaves on each plate. Top leaves with chicken mixture, dividing evenly. Spoon dressing over the top of each cup, then finish with a drizzle of Sriracha, some chopped peanuts, and the fresh cilantro. Serve immediately.