This Lao shredded chicken salad recipe with fragrant herbs, fish sauce and lime juice makes yum gai tom, based on a recipe by the late Phia Sing, head chef of the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang, from the book Traditional Recipes of Laos. Made with poached chicken breast, crunchy cucumbers and fresh coriander, dill and mint, it’s a light yet filling salad.
If you enjoyed the Vietnamese chicken salad recipe I recently shared, you’re going to love this delicious Lao shredded chicken salad recipe for yum gai tom, based on a recipe from a wonderful Lao cookbook I picked up in Laos many years ago called Traditional Recipes of Laos by Phia Sing, the late head chef of the Royal Palace in Luang Prabang.
It’s one of my favourite poached chicken breast recipes, which are some of our best chicken breast recipes and some of the most popular chicken recipes on Grantourismo, and I’ll be adding it to those collections. I almost called it a Lao poached chicken salad recipe, although ‘yam gai tom’ translates to ‘boiled chicken salad’, but that gives you a different impression of what it actually is.
The Lao-American chef James Syhabout includes a recipe for this classic Lao chicken salad (which I guess could also be called a pulled chicken salad), in his fab cookbook Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes from a Refugee Chef’s Isan Thai & Lao Roots but he simply calls it ‘yum gai’ or chicken salad. Call it what you like, but just make it. You’re going to love it.
And if you want to learn more about Lao cooking, aside from getting on a plane to Luang Prabang and doing a Lao cooking class, which is one of the best things to do in Luang Prabang, in addition to the Lao cookbooks above, I also recommend Simple Laotian Cooking by Penn Hongthong and Food From Northern Laos: The Boat Landing Cookbook by Dorothy Culloty and Kees Sprengers.
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Lao Shredded Chicken Salad Recipe with Fragrant Herbs, Fish Sauce and Lime for Yum Gai Tom
Thailand may be ‘the land of smiles’, Cambodia ‘the land of real smiles’ (sorry, it’s a Southeast Asian joke) and Laos ‘the land of a million elephants’. But for me Southeast Asia will always be ‘the land of a million amazing salads’. Here in Cambodia, home to Southeast Asia’s oldest living cuisine, there are countless salads – pounded salads, raw salads, tossed salads, and mixed salads – and each neighbouring country has just as many of its own salads.
Some of the salads are what’s called ‘same same but different’ here in Southeast Asia, which means that they’re part of the same salad family, and taste similar, yet they taste different, and that difference might be due to one or two or three ingredients, representative of their cuisine, which distinguishes one salad from another.
The pounded green papaya salads found in Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar, are a perfect example of what I’m talking about, and you’ll also find variations of this Lao shredded chicken salad recipe across the region, the most similar coming from Vietnam, which I linked to above.
So let me tell you more about this particular Lao shredded chicken salad recipe, based on the yum gai tom recipe from Traditional Recipes of Laos, which I’ve tweaked a little, but which still tastes like a yam gai tom you’ll come across in Laos. But I want to tell you more about that book first.
The Lao recipes in the Traditional Recipes of Laos were written up in two notebooks by palace cook Phia Sing on his death bed before he died in 1967. Phia Sing’s wife passed the notebooks on to the Crown Prince of Laos in the hope that he’d publish them in a book.
The Crown Prince, however, gave the notebooks filled with handwritten recipes to Alan Davidson, after they met in 1974 about Lao fish recipes that Davidson was publishing in a book on Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos.
Davidson appreciated their value and with the blessing of Phia Sing’s wife, who was thrilled her husband’s dying wish was being realised, Davidson published the royal chef’s Traditional Recipes of Laos in 1980, with profits going to help Lao refugees.
The handsome book features handwritten recipes on the left-side pages and, on the right-side pages, the English translations by Lao translators Phouangphet Vannithone and Boon Song Klausner.
The book is beautifully illustrated with nearly a hundred drawings by Lao artist Thao Soun Vannithone and it has a comprehensive introductory section covering how Laos eat, culinary terms, equipment, ingredients, and measures edited by Alan and Jennifer Davidson.
If you’re keen to learn about Lao cooking, this is the Lao cookbook to start with, then work your way through the cookbooks above. I’ll be sharing more recipes from this cookbook over coming months. Just a few tips to making this Lao shredded chicken salad recipe.
Tips to Making this Lao Shredded Chicken Salad Recipe
My tweaked version of Phia Sing’s yam kai tom is super easy, so there’s no need for loads of tips. ‘Gai’ or ‘kai’ is chicken in Lao, and ‘tom’ is ‘to boil’, although from the cooking notes it’s clear that the chicken was to be poached not boiled, as the instructions call for just enough water to “cover the chicken (no more) and boil under the chicken is tender”.
Phia Sing used a whole chicken, in fact, which in Cambodia would be boiled in a massive cauldron of a pot. But like Phia Sing, I suggest placing the chicken breasts in a pot large enough to hold the breasts so they’re sitting on the bottom of the pot and pour in enough room temperature water so that they’re just covered.
Add the aromatics, although Phia Sing recommends shallots only, so that’s one of my tweaks, and bring the water to a boil then immediately turn it down low to a simmer. Use a fine mesh strainer to skim off any scum and check the temperature of the chicken breasts often to ensure they don’t over-cook.
It’s essential to use a digital kitchen meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the chicken breasts, making sure to poke it into the thickest parts of the breasts. When it reaches 74°C/ 165˚F remove the chicken breasts.
Phia Sing included two ripe tomatoes in his yam kai tom recipe, which he dipped in hot water for a minute, peeled, halved, sliced lengthways and discarded the core and seeds. I’ve skipped the tomatoes, but you could certainly add those.
The palace chef also used shallots and garlic, which he placed in the embers of a charcoal fire (I will give that a go one day and report back), and he only used coriander. I’ve added fresh mint and fresh dill, which are found in a lot of Lao salads, and are so refreshing.
Lao Shredded Chicken Salad Recipe
- 150 g chicken breast poached and shredded
- 1 piece of lemongrass smashed with a pestle
- 4 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 knob of ginger peeled and smashed with a pestle
- 2 tbsp quality fish sauce
- 1 lime juice only
- 1 tsp palm sugar
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 100 g Romaine lettuce leaves washed and torn
- 50 g cucumber cut in half lengthways, then sliced into pieces
- 2 spring onions (scallions) finely sliced
- 2 red chillies long, fresh, sliced and de-seeded
- 30 g purple shallots small, sliced into rings
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 2 tbsp coriander (cilantro) fresh, leaves only
- 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves only
- 1 tbsp fresh dill sprigs only
- 1 tbsp crunchy fried shallots
- Poach the chicken breasts: place the chicken breasts in a pot large enough so they’re sitting on the bottom of the pot; pour in just enough water to cover the chicken pieces; add the piece of lemongrass, lime leaves and knob of ginger; bring the water to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat to low, and simmer until when you poke a thermometer into the widest part of the breast the internal temperature reaches 74°C/ 165°F. Remove and when they’re cool enough to touch, shred the chicken pieces into strips using your hands or two forks.
- Make the dressing while the chicken is poaching: to a jar with lid, add two tablespoons of quality fish sauce, the juice of one lime, a teaspoon of palm sugar, half a teaspoon of sea salt and half a teaspoon of ground black pepper, pop the lid on and shake vigorously, then remove the lid and set aside so the flavours meld together.
- To a large mixing bowl, add the torn Romaine lettuce leaves, cucumber pieces, sliced spring onions/scallions, finely sliced fresh red chillies, sliced purple shallots, minced garlic clove, and half of each of the portions of fresh coriander leaves, fresh mint leaves and fresh dill sprigs.
- Just before serving, add the shredded chicken, evenly pour the dressing over the salad, use a big spoon or clean hands to thoroughly combine, then transfer to a salad bowl or serving dish, sprinkle on the remaining fresh herbs and crunchy fried shallots, and serve immediately.
Please do let us know if you in the comments below if you make this Lao shredded chicken salad recipe with fresh herbs for yum gai tom as we’d love to hear how it turned out for you.