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Ground Duck Salad with Mint (Thai)

Ground Duck Salad with Mint (Laab Bped) - Using duck in laab sounds like the humble Northeastern dish’s attempt to be gourmet, but that’s far from its true origin. Rural villagers of the Northeast lead simple, agricultural lifestyles, raising farm animals in their backyard, ducks included. When laab bped is made in the countryside, it begins with slaughtering the duck. The entire duck is used—the meat, the skin, and everything inside. The bones are used to make a duck soup (like the Tom Sap) to pair with the salad. I like to fry the skin until crisp and sprinkle it on top for a crackly finish (it’s better than crispy bacon!). Laab bped is now arguably the most popular laab in Thailand, but since Thai restaurants overseas rarely offer it, you’re going to need a recipe!

Serves: 4 as an appetizer, 2 as an entrée
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
Special Tools: Mortar and pestle, or another device for making toasted rice powder
Do-ahead Tips: Grind the duck and fry the skin in advance. Toast the rice a day in advance.
Laab = A Northeastern salad made of ground meat; Bped = Duck
Ground Duck Salad with Mint Thai Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 Duck breasts, about 9 oz each (see note)
  • ¼ tsp Salt
  • 2 Tbsp Water or chicken stock
  • ¼ cup Shallots, short juliennes
  • 2 Tbsp Lemongrass, thinly sliced into rounds (optional)
  • 1½Tbsp Galangal, finely minced (optional)
  • 2–3 Kaffir lime leaves, finely julienned (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp Fish sauce
  • 3 Tbsp Lime juice
  • To taste Roasted chili flakes or regular chili flakes
  • ½ cup Mint, large leaves chopped, small leaves left whole
  • ¼ cup Cilantro, chopped
  • 4–6 leaves Sawtooth coriander or extra cilantro, chopped
  • 1–2 Green onions, chopped
  • 1–2 Tbsp Toasted rice powder
  • For garnish Small mint leaves (optional)
  • For serving Sticky rice and fresh vegetables such as long beans, cucumber, or lettuce

How to make Ground Duck Salad with Mint (Thai Recipe)

  1. Separate the duck skin from the meat and cut the skin crosswise into ¼-inch strips. Season the skin with salt, then add it to a small pot or sauté pan. Cook the skin over medium heat, stirring frequently, to render the fat. Once the fat has started pooling, turn the heat down to low, and keep frying until the skin is a deep-brown colour and the bubbling has stopped. The whole process should take about 8–10 minutes. Remove it with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Note: The stopping of bubbling indicates that there is no more water in the skin, which means it’s crispy.
  2. To grind the duck meat, slice the duck meat thinly, then cut each slice into small pieces. Gather the duck pieces into a pile on a sturdy cutting board, and using a heavy knife or cleaver, mince the duck meat in a quick up-and-down, chop-chop-chop motion, changing the angle of the knife occasionally. Once you have chopped this side thoroughly, flip the duck meat over and repeat the mincing on the other side. To check completeness, grab a chunk of meat and pull it apart to see if there are still large pieces.
  3. Add the 2 Tbsp of water or chicken stock to a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the ground duck meat and stir constantly until fully cooked. Remove from the heat.
  4. To the duck pot, add the shallots, lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves; stir to wilt and distribute the flavours. Stir in the fish sauce, lime juice, and chili flakes.
  5. Before serving, toss in the ½ cup mint, cilantro, sawtooth coriander, green onions, and toasted rice powder. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  6. Serve the salad on a deep plate and sprinkle the crispy duck skin over top. Garnish with small mint leaves. Serve with sticky rice, which you can use to soak up the juices, and fresh vegetables, which serve as palate cleansers between bites. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Toasted rice powder
Note: I make ground duck meat the old-school way using a cleaver, and the instructions are provided here. You can ask the butcher to grind it for you, just remember to keep the skin separate and intact. You can also use duck legs and thighs; I use breasts simply because they are easier to process.

GETTING BACK TO THE BASIC LAAB
It may look like the recipe has a long list of ingredients, but don’t be discouraged: many of them are optional! For Thais, laab is supposed to simple and rustic—we don’t sweat it if a couple of herbs are missing. I’d like laab’s spirit of simplicity to also be in your kitchen; so, apart from the meat and the dressing, the must-have ingredients are shallots, toasted rice powder, mint, cilantro, and green onions. Sawtooth coriander is always used in Thailand, but adding extra cilantro also works. Galangal, lemongrass, and kaffir lime leaves are welcome additions for laab made with duck, beef, and fish, because they help soften gamey and fishy flavours.
THE BREAKDOWN
The Protein Duck
The Vegetables Served on the side, none in the dish
The Herbs Shallots, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, mint, cilantro, sawtooth coriander, green onions
The Dressing Fish sauce, lime juice, chili flakes, toasted rice powder
Flavour Profile Leads with sour, followed by salty, balanced by the nuttiness of the toasted rice powder.

Dressing It Up: For a less traditional but more elegant presentation, try pan-searing whole duck breasts. Score the skin and sear both sides until you get crispy skin and medium doneness. Then slice the duck thinly before tossing with the herbs and dressing—it’ll be a meal to impress!.