Naem Khao (Lao Crispy Rice Salad)

For the som mu:
1 pound ground pork
2 large cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
2 large makrut lime leaves, minced
1 fresh red hot chile, preferably bird’s eye (may substitute with 1 small serrano chile peppers)
Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime, preferably makrut
Generous 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

For the naem khao:
3 tablespoons chile-garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek
4 teaspoons mild honey, or more to taste
3 cups (525 grams) cooked jasmine rice, cooled completely (see NOTES)
1 cup (120 grams) frozen shredded coconut (see NOTES)
3 tablespoons (60 grams) red curry paste, preferably Maesri brand
1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Three Crabs brand
1 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
Finely grated zest of 1 lime, preferably makrut
2 large eggs, lightly beaten, plus more if needed
4 cups canola oil
Fresh or frozen makrut lime leaves, for serving
Dried bird’s eye chiles or another dried small red chile, for serving (optional)
Butter lettuce leaves, for serving
Som mu (recipe above or store-bought, see Where to Buy)
Fresh cilantro sprigs, for serving
Roasted peanuts, for serving (optional)
Chopped scallions, for serving (optional)

Make the som mu: In a medium bowl, mix together the pork, garlic, lime leaves, chile, lime zest and juice, salt and sugar until the mixture is thoroughly combined. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days.

When ready to cook the sausage, add enough water to come 1 inch up the sides of a medium pot. Insert a steamer basket in the pot, making sure the bottom of the basket doesn’t touch the water, cover with a lid and set over medium heat until the water comes to a simmer.

Meanwhile, remove the sausage mixture from the refrigerator and divide into six equal parts and roll each into a cylinder approximately 8 inches long. Wrap each cylinder in plastic wrap, twisting the ends tightly, or divide between two silicone resealable bags (such as Stasher brand).

Remove the lid and carefully place the wrapped or sealed sausages on top of the steamer basket. Return the lid to the pot and steam the sausages for about 8 minutes or until completely cooked through and no pink remains. Carefully remove from the steamer basket and let sit for a few minutes before opening the individually wrapped sausages or unsealing the bags. Set aside while you make the naem khao.

Make the naem khao: In a small bowl, whisk together the chile-garlic sauce and honey; set aside.

Set a wire rack over a large, rimmed baking sheet and line a small plate with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel; keep both nearby.

In a large bowl, combine the rice, coconut (you may need to use your fingers to separate frozen clumps into individual shredded bits), curry paste, fish sauce, paprika and lime zest. Mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and mix until thoroughly combined. (If the mixture seems dry and crumbly, add another egg and mix to combine.)

In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed large pot set it over medium heat, heat the oil until it registers 350 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

While the oil is heating, shape the rice mixture into golf-sized balls, then gently flatten each ball into a patty. (You can opt to keep the rice balls as spheres, if you prefer, but a flatter patty will give you more crispy surface area.)

When the oil is hot enough (if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, drop a pinch of the rice mixture into the oil and if it sizzles vigorously, the oil is ready), working in batches to avoid overcrowding, gently slide a few rice patties into the hot oil and fry until deep golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Using two forks or a spider, gently flip the patties and fry until deep golden brown on the other side, another 2 to 3 minutes. Using a spider or a slotted spoon, transfer to the prepared wire rack and repeat with the remaining patties. As you continue to fry subsequent batches, you may need to adjust the heat and frying time as needed.

Add the lime leaves and chiles, if using, to the oil and fry until crispy, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. (You may need to stay back as the oil may bubble vigorously.) Using a spider, transfer the fried aromatics to the towel-lined plate.

To serve, arrange the lettuce leaves in 4 shallow bowls, add 4 rice patties to each bowl (you may have one or two extra), some of the som mu, cilantro, peanuts and scallions, if using. Crumble some of the fried makrut lime leaves and chiles, if using, over the bowl. To eat, break the rice patties into irregular bits, and mix with the som mu and the aromatics. Spoon the mixture into the lettuce leaves and garnish, and eat like wraps.

Make Ahead: Jasmine rice needs to be cooked and completely cooled before use, and can be prepared up to 3 days in advance. If making som mu, the sausage mixture needs to cure for at least 8 hours and for up to 3 days before cooking.

Storage Notes: Leftover som mu can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Leftover uncooked rice patties can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Leftover fried rice patties can be stored, loosely covered, at room temperature for up to 1 day; it’s difficult to reheat them without making them tougher, and they may not be as crunchy the following day.

Where to Buy: Frozen shredded coconut, makrut limes and their leaves, som mu (a fermented Lao sausage — look for Bouakham Nam Sausage from the Lucky Lily brand) and fresh bird’s eye chiles can be found at Asian markets. Fish sauce, dried bird’s eye chiles and curry paste can be found at Asian markets and online. Chile garlic sauce, such as sambal oelek can be found at Asian markets, well-stocked supermarkets and online.

NOTES: Jasmine rice is traditionally used to make this dish; cook according to the package instructions. To get 3 cups of cooked rice, you’ll need about 1 1/2 cups uncooked. One caveat: We didn’t have success with leftover takeout jasmine rice as it was too dry and the patties fell apart.

Frozen coconut may be difficult to break apart from the block; you can soften it slightly in the microwave by heating it in 15-second bursts until you can break it up into chunks and then into individual shreds. If you can’t find frozen coconut, you can substitute equal amount of unsweetened coconut flakes, though the weight will be different.

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