In a previous post I discussed Southeast Asian sticky rice (a.k.a. glutinous rice, or khao niao) in some detail, along with a few ways it can be used as a cooking ingredient. I mentioned it could be dry roasted in a pan, then crushed in a mortar to be a crunchy component in laab. Another great culinary use is for thickening stews, a rice preparation of the rice known in Thai and Lao as “khao beua” ข้าวเบือ/ເຂົ້າເບືອ. That is today’s theme.
I used to think the only way to prepare khao beua was by soaking uncooked sticky rice for several hours and pulverizing the rice with a little water in a mortar to make a white paste (hereafter referred to as “method #1). I now know of another method (thanks Ajaan!) in which leftover steamed sticky rice is grilled over a fire (or under a broiler) and dried to a crunchy golden treat, and then pounded in a mortar. The resulting coarse powder has the same ability to provide viscosity in soups and stews, but it also adds a another level of flavor due to the toasted rice.
Today we used this method to roast sticky rice and make khao beua for an Isaan-style chicken stew. If you travel to Isaan or Laos and eat regional stews, you’ll see how divergent vegetable and meat ingredients can be–but there are some common denominators: 1. they generally have a kreung gaeng spice paste for the soup base made from lemongrass, shallots, kaffir lime leaves, chiles, and sometimes galangal, 2. the soup/stew is generally given depth with a fermented fish paste, and 3. the resulting soup is thickened with rice.
These (very often beef or water buffalo) stews share much kinship with those of Cambodia. In fact, you might compare the recipe below to the Cambodian sour beef soup that I posted on many months ago.
For some other great instances of Isaan/Lao stews thickened with rice, check out Thaifoodmaster’s post on Or Lam stew (with a special focus on the unique Lao “chile wood” ingredient). There is also a nice video from Cooking with Nana, where she uses method #1 in blending soaked sticky rice to thicken her Lao-style stew.
Recipe: Isaan chicken stew อ่อมไก่ aum gai
As mentioned above, aum has a similar starter base to other great home-style soups and stews in Southeast Asia: shallots, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chile. In Thailand and Laos fermented fish and rice thickener will be also be standard ingredients. Besides those important building blocks, meat and vegetable ingredients can vary widely. That said the stew should be finalized with plenty of leafy green aromatics. Any combination of dill, sawtooth herb, Vietnamese mint, lemon basil, holy basil, etc. would be good for this.
Use whatever vegetable ingredients that are handy. In Issan/Laos, you’ll find apple eggplants, leafy green vegetables, beans, and mushrooms to be common ingredients.
- Pound spice blend for soup base, prepare your ground khao beua (see above), fermented fish paste (boil several pieces of funky fermented gourami in a little water in a small pan and straining the bones off).
- Fry coarsely chopped chicken in some oil or lard, add kreung from step 1. Mix well.
- Add stock or water to cover (with some anticipation of how many vegetables you will be including) and bring to a boil. Prepare your vegetable ingredients. Today we are using a bunch of yuchoy, some segmented long beans, and oyster mushrooms (this image is just a sampling, we’re using quite a bit more veggies than this).
- Add fermented fish paste, fish sauce, and taste for strong flavors. Add salt/fish sauce if needed. Also add in your thickener at this stage, whether that be soaked and pounded khao beua, or roasted and pounded khao beua. Chop/hand shred plenty of leafy aromatics. When vegetables are cooked, add aromatics and turn off heat. For today’s stew we used the following (again this is a sampling of what we used):
Part of your complete Isaan meal (clockwise from right: aum chicken stew, papaya salad, dried sweet beef jerky and Vietnamese-style pork sausage, lettuce, cucumber, jaew with pork, pork rinds). Sticky rice to eat with all of this off camera.