Laab Gai (Chicken)

By Alex Hanesakda

In recent years, the cuisine of Laos in Southeast Asia has gotten easier to find in the Milwaukee-area dining scene, but it gets overshadowed by Thailand’s anthology of dishes. Through his cooking, Alex Hanesakda, whose family originally comes from Laos, is an ambassador for this understated but super flavorful cuisine. One dish – arguably Lao’s signature – is laab, a salad of ground meat, herbs, plus funky fish sauce and plenty of fresh lime juice. While he says, “so many ethnic groups take credit” for laab, “It would be at every party, every event. The women would be in the garden getting all the fresh vegetables, and then with the meat, it was a very interactive experience. It screams Lao people.” Traditionally, the meat “salad” is scooped into lettuce leaves, so it’s a tactile experience as well.


Serves 6

3 pounds chicken thighs, skin on and bone-in

7 grams salt

2 grams monosodium glutamate (MSG)

30 grams fish sauce

100 grams lime juice

10 grams roasted rice powder

20 grams galangal root, finely chopped

30 grams shallots, thinly sliced

1 ounce fresh mint

Additional salt, to taste

1 head of iceberg lettuce, for serving

1 cucumber, sliced, for serving

Sticky rice (optional, for serving)


1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season the chicken with salt and MSG. Roast the chicken thighs until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Remove them from the oven and let them cool down.


2. Carefully peel the skin off the chicken thighs, then add the skin to a heavy bottom pan or Dutch oven. Scrape the fond (browned bits of meat and fat stuck to the bottom of the pan you cooked the chicken in), and add it to the same pan as the skin. Over low heat, bring the skin/fond back up to temperature. Continue heating until the skin is crispy. Set aside.


3. Mince the chicken meat and the rendered skin. In a large mixing bowl, combine the minced chicken and skin/fond mixture with the fish sauce, lime juice, roasted rice powder, galangal and sliced shallots. Toss everything well. Taste and add additional salt if needed.


4. Serve the laab with lettuce leaves for wrapping, fresh cucumber slices, and sticky rice, if desired.


Growing up in Burlington, Wisconsin, Alex Hanesakda says his earliest memories are of helping his parents prepare meals, whether that meant working in the vegetable garden or processing animal meat in the backyard. Hanesakda’s interest in food began to evolve when he was in his 20s, and he took a job at Hometown Sausage Kitchen in East Troy to learn artisan sausage-making. In time, he was doing farm dinners and pop-ups, serving his Lao-style barbecue and Mamma’s Egg Rolls under the name SapSap. Inspired by the barbecues his father used to do, Hanesakda has transitioned to serving Lao barbecue (“simple proteins and sauces with sticky rice”) at pop-ups, private events and catering.

Alex Hanesakda


Alex Hanesakda


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