Face it: you’re woefully undereducated when it comes to the food of Myanmar — and so were we until we picked up a copy of Burma Superstar. Packed with vibrant flavors both familiar and entirely new, this book based on recipes from the beloved San Francisco restaurant of the same name is a fantastic primer on Burmese cuisine. If you like Thai larb (also spelled laab) you’ll love this stir-fried Burmese chicken with mint.
Those who like laap will love this Burmese-Chinese version of the herby Thai minced meat dish. Here, minced chicken is stir-fried with ground cumin and mustard seeds, ginger, garlic and a spoonful of sambal oelek. Whole cloves of garlic are mixed in for texture, but they are fried ahead of time to reduce the pungency of eating them raw. Use the smaller cloves found on the inside of a head of garlic or slice large cloves in half. You can turn this into a vegetarian dish by dicing up a block of firm tofu, letting it drain on paper towels for a few minutes, and then stir-frying the tofu pieces in place of the chicken.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 small) or 4 to 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons sambal oelek
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce or 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 6 to 8 small garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1/2 jalapeno, chopped, or 2 Thai chilies, sliced
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus extra sprigs for garnish
- 1/4 cup chopped mint
- lime wedges, for garnish
For the chicken
To mince the chicken, place the pieces on the cutting board so the smooth side is facing up. With a knife blade parallel to the cutting board, slice the chicken in half width-wise, opening it up into two thinner, even pieces. Cut the chicken against the grain into thin strips, then chop the strips finely. Run the knife over the meat until it looks evenly minced. (Cutting the chicken by hand results in a better texture than using ground chicken.)
In a dry wok or skillet, toast the cumin seeds and mustard seeds until the cumin is fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop, no more than 30 seconds. Transfer to a mortar with a pestle or a coffee grinder used for grinding spices and pulverize into a coarse powder.
In a small bowl, mix together the sambal, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. (If not using soy sauce, you may need a pinch more fish sauce.)
In a wok or large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Tilt the wok so the oil pools to one side and add the garlic cloves. (This helps the garlic cloves stay submerged in oil so they fry more evenly.) Fry until light golden and softened, about 1 minute. Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic cloves. Leave the oil in the wok.
Heat the wok over high heat. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the minced garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for a few seconds and add the chicken. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir-fry the chicken briefly, then press the meat against the sides of the wok to increase the surface area and decrease how much the chicken steams. (If using a skillet, spread the chicken evenly across its base.) Water will start to pool in the center of the wok, but that’s okay — it will cook out. After a minute, give the wok a stir so the chicken pieces don’t stick together. Repeat this step until the chicken is light brown in places and pale in others, about 3 minutes depending on the wok and the burner strength.
Stir in the mustard-cumin blend, sambal mixture, fried garlic cloves, and jalapeño. Stir constantly, until the liquid just lightly coats the meat. Mix in the chopped cilantro and mint. Serve with cilantro sprigs and lime wedges.