Spicy Thai Minced Chicken Salad with Peanuts & Celery Leaves
One of my favorite categories of Thai dishes is “larb”—a light and spicy salad usually made with fresh herbs, Thai seasonings, and some form of minced meat. Larbs made with ground pork are very popular in U.S. Thai restaurants…but I think this light salad is lighter still with ground chicken as its protein base. My own recipe for this variation follows—a quick and delicious first course, or main course! Plus, I have found the perfect Gewurztraminer to go with spicier food!!
makes 4 appetizer servings
oil for deep-frying
1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast or thigh
½ teaspoon Thai chile powder, or cayenne
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
½ cup lime juice
8 teaspoons Thai fish sauce
1 small, hot chile, seeded and minced (or more to taste)
4 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
½ cup smashed roasted peanuts
¼ cup finely minced celery heart
½ cup firmly packed celery leaves
¼ cup firmly packed cilantro leaves
¼ cup firmly packed shredded mint leaves
4 green leaf lettuce leaves
1. Place oil in a wide pot, several inches deep, and heat to 300°F.
2. Mince chicken coarsely. When oil has reached 300°F, lower the chicken, all at once, into the oil. Immediately swirl with your spoon to break up clumps. Cook chicken just until it loses its pink; this may be as little as 10 seconds. Pour chicken immediately into a colander, discarding oil (or saving for another use.) Let chicken drain for a moment.
3. Place chicken in a mixing bowl. Add the chile powder and mix well to color chicken evenly. Add the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, chile, ginger and peanuts; toss vigorously to blend. Add celery heart, celery leaves, cilantro leaves and mint leaves, and toss gently (so as to keep the leaves fluffy.)
4. Place the lettuce leaves on 4 serving plates, and top each leaf with ¼ of the chicken mixture. Serve immediately.
And in your glass? I love the flavors of Gewurztraminer with this dish…but not for the reasons you might suspect! Because “Gewurztraminer” means “spicy Traminer,” we wine-lovers are always thinking that it is automatically the match for “spicy” food. But there is flawed logic in this assumption. For one thing, the kind of “spice” that is meant by “Gewurz” is not the kind of spice we find in “spicy” dishes; wine spice has subtle hints of Christmas spices whereas food spice, usually, is a megaton of chili heat. They really have nothing to with each other. Plus, there’s an inherent bitterness in Gewurztraminer wines that positively clashes with chili-laden food!
So, please don’t take away from this that Gewurz and Thai food are always fast friends. However, they can be if you tune it correctly…and if you pick the right Gewurz. The wine I have in mind comes from a great co-op in Alsace, and is an unusual Gewurztraminer. Yes, it has the typical Gewurz aromas and flavor—more like dried roses and lychee than like “spice”—but it is possessed of unusual balance and elegance. Gewurz like this doesn’t clash with food that has chili heat, smoothly adding its extraordinary payload of flavor as an exotic “spice” overlay on the dish.
2014 Cave de Ribeauvillé, Gewurztraminer Collection
Very subtle Gewurz nose…a little on the rose water side, plus some citrus. Definitely off-dry, and less bitter than typical Gewurz. Its quietness and relative lightness makes it better for food than many other more resoundingly varietal Gewurzes. Coconut Curry, Chicken Tandoori, Thai Larbs…this is the rare Gewurz that can carry off spicy Asian food.
images: Christine Olson/Flickr Creative Commons, Vernon Chan/Flickr Creative Commons & Cave de Ribeauvillé