Saturday, February 1, 2014

Laap Gai Chiang Mai and a visit to Little Serow

Green Market in Bangkok 2000

I have no idea why we decided to do this on a cold and windy Saturday evening, but several weeks ago my daughter and I braved the elements and stood in line for an hour to get a table at Little Serow, a popular restaurant serving northern and northeastern Thai cuisine in Washington D.C. Since the restaurant doesn't take reservations and does not own a phone, people will stand in line up to an hour before doors open at 5:30 p.m. I am glad that I wrote down the complete address as there was no sign outside the building indicating where the restaurant was located. Only a line of 10 adults waiting patiently on the sidewalk and on stairs leading down to the basement entrance of a building alerted us that this was probably the entrance to the restaurant. We patiently stood in line, taking turns warming up in the close-by CVS pharmacy. An hour later, at 5:30 p.m. sharp, the doors opened and a hostess invited guests in, one party at a time. When it was finally our turn to walk through those doors I was completely frozen.

The hostess greeted us and ensured that we knew that the dishes served here were spicy (which we did know) and that there couldn't be any substitutions. We were then let to our table for two - a bar-height small table with two stools. Once I had warmed up a bit I looked around to take in first impressions of the restaurant. I was surprised to see how small it was (the restaurant can only accommodate about 30 dinner guests) and how minimalist the design was. It's a very functional place with unadorned mint-green walls and just a few glasses and pitchers on a shelf behind the bar.

Menu for January 18, 2014

nam prik narohk
mackerel/tamarind/khi nu chilies

tom kha pla chorn
snakehead fish/galangal/krachai

som tum o
pomelo/salted prawn/lime leaf

laap gai chiang mai
chicken/offal/lanna spices

tow hu thouk
tofu/cilantro root/peanut

phat pakaukeo
greens/salted fish/egg

si krong muu
pork ribs/mekhong whiskey/dill

The food was very good, some dishes better than others, but make no mistake, this is very spicy food. I have eaten many spicy dishes while living in Southeast and South Asia, but some of the dishes served here are extremely hot. My personal favorites were the snakehead fish soup, the pomelo and salted prawn salad and the laap gai chiang mai, a ground chicken salad.

Wouldn't it be fun to try to recreate a few of these dishes? Going through some of my Thai cookbooks and searching online, I decided to try a slightly less spicy variation of the ground chicken salad. So here is my version of Laap Gai Chiang Mai.

1 1/2 cups ground chicken
1/2 cup chopped chicken liver
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3 slices of Thai ginger, chopped
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbsp finely minced lemongrass
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp lime juice
chili powder or flakes to taste - I used 1/2 tsp very hot Tian Shan pepper flakes
1 tbsp chopped coriander stems
1 chopped spring onion, green and white parts
1 tbsp chopped mint leaves
2 tbsp Jasmine rice - roasted and ground (roast the rice, stirring, in a small saucepan over medium heat for about 8 minutes, let it cool down and then grind it in a blender)
mint and coriander leaves for garnish
cabbage, Chinese radish and cucumber slices for garnish

  • Prepare roasted ground rice
  • Mix the ground chicken, chopped chicken liver, shallots, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, fish sauce, sugar, lime juice and chili powder or flakes thoroughly. Heat a wok over high heat and cook the chicken mixture for a couple of minutes until cooked through. Stir constantly to prevent burning.
  • Transfer mixture into a bowl and add the coriander stems, spring onion, mint leaves and the ground rice.
  • Mix everything together.
  • Arrange sliced radish and cucumber on a platter. Quarter cabbage and use quartered leaves to scoop up chicken salad. The radish and cucumber slices are very refreshing!
  • Garnish with mint and coriander leaves. 

Serves 3-4

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