Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Crispy pork with lemongrass and chilli

I've been trying for a while to re-create a Thai minced pork dish that , seven years ago, I used to eat at least twice a week for lunch.

It hasn't been going very well because I don't know what it's called - either in Thai or in English - and so I can't find a recipe. I tried to just, you know, wing it once and piled in fish sauce, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and whatever else I could find in my cupboards onto my minced pork. And it was disgusting. Genuinely the worst thing I've ever cooked - apart from that time at university when I made pasta with a black peppercorn sauce meant for steak.

But then as a wedding present a friend got me Books for Cooks 9 and while flicking through it I found a recipe for Crispy Pork with Lemongrass and Chilli and I thought that it must be an approximation of my Thai thing and so I made it today. For lunch.

The reason I've got such a desire for this thing right now is all because of the election. You see, my first job was as a researcher at The Week, which is a news digest magazine. You might not believe it to look at my vacant little face, the dim spark in my callow eyes, but I used to be, like, well into politics, bruv. And my job at The Week meant that I had to read all the papers, every single day. ALL of them. Every day. And not just the fashion pages and the first paragraph of some crappy feature about Prozac. I mean all the politics pages, all the leaders, each columnist on every comment page from start to finish, right from the dull opening paragraph to the tedious conclusion. Everything. I used to be able to guess the columnist 9 times out of 10 from the opening sentence. Like a newsnerd's version of Name That Tune.

It's why these days I only read the fashion pages and crappy features about Prozac.

Even if I hadn't been interested in it, I couldn't help but know everything there was to know about the politics of the time; when I was there it was all about the dodgy dossier, Hutton, Iraq, Alastair Campbell's departure from No. 10, all that Sexator stuff: Rod Liddle and Alicia Monckton, Boris and Petsy Wyatt, David Blunkett and Kimberly Quinn. This last was triply exciting for us as Kimberley Quinn used to receive, and probably still does, a personally-posted free copy of The Week, which was mailed to her house every Thursday by whatever poverty-stricken Arts graduate was sitting on reception that day.

I sat through 2 years of it all in that little office on Westbourne Grove, reading the papers, photocopying, making coffee, cutting out and blu-tacking up Giles's columns to the wall, sweeping up, finding my boss's glasses, piling up old newspapers against the far window which used to bulge and leak whenever it rained.

And then, when I was feeling rich (because it cost £6 with rice) I'd go to the Thai takeaway round the corner on Chepstow Road (I never knew and still don't know what it's called) and purchase this flaming hot, dark, rich porky thing and scoff it at my desk with a large glass of water reading - as a bit of light relief - the fashion pages and crappy features about Prozac.

So say "24 hour news" to me, and I reach for the nam pla. Yesterday's departure of Gordon Brown and the arrival of David Cameron, David Dimbleby's timbre, the speculation about ties, outriders, policy, who's got what in the cabinet, the minutiae of Buckingham Palace protocol, made me forget all the bad things about working in an office. For a couple of hours last night I longed to be back in that room in Westbourne Grove, eating my expensive Thai lunch and watching BBC News 24 on the fuzzy telly in the corner of the office with the boy who sat opposite me and talking about what was going to happen next.

But you can't ever go back. The office has long gone, anyway - moved somewhere else, I can't remember where, and thus the Thai place is no longer round the corner. But as a pretty fair substitute I can sit in my kitchen eating an approximation of the Thai thing with my husband, listening to the lunchtime news on Radio 4.

So here we go:

Crispy Pork with lemongrass and chilli - from Mince! 100 Fabulously Frugal Recipes by Mitzie Wilson, via Books for Cooks 9

For 4 as a starter, for 2 as a light lunch

For the sauce:
4 tbsp fish sauce
juice 2 limes
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp sesame oil

For the pork:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
500g pork mince
1/2 onion, chopped
1 lemon grass stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 spring onions, sliced
2 tbsp roughly chopped coriander
fish sauce

1 - Make the sauce by whisking ingredients together
2 - Cook the pork and onions together over a medium heat, breaking up any large lumps of mince until it looks fine and crumbly (about 10 mins)
3 - if your mince is very fatty you can drain some of it away and return to the heat
4 - Cook for another 5 minutes. The recipe says "until crispy and golden" but I didn't really achieve that. You might.
5 - Add the lemongrass, chilli and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in your sauce, coriander and spring onions. The recipe say cook for another 2 minutes, but I blasted it for a bit longer, about 5-7 minutes, with a bit of water so that the spring onions and garlic were a bit less scary.

Have this with large leaves of iceberg lettuce, which you wrap the mince up in like some insane Atkins fajita. Serve with PMQs.


  1. I'm not sure how close this came to being the dish you wanted to eat, but from your initial description it sounded like you were talking about larp (also spelt lap/laap/larb....) - though I wouldn't describe it as "crispy", it does look much like the picture you have of the dish you've just made.

  2. Enjoyed your newsnerd memories of '03 tasting of crispy pork with lemongrass and chilli. So much more substantial than madeleine crumbs.

    Keep writing.

  3. Thanks Anonymous. Good to have you here, as always. x

  4. I'm with Emma. This is larb. I am obsessed by it too, but not as much as these people right here:

  5. I think this is called Laab Moo (or Laab gai if with chicken). It's delicious!

  6. loved making and eating this, thanks for posting!