Toasted Rice Powder is an essential ingredient in Thai Minced Chicken or Pork Salad (laab gai or laab moo) and is used to thicken dipping sauces like jaew. Here’s how to make this smoky, nutty, ground rice powder at home in about 15 minutes.
When Frank and I lived in Bangkok, we bought toasted rice powder from our local grocery store and never gave it a second thought. Then we returned to the United States and couldn’t find a good version anywhere. The version that we found at our local Asian grocery store was lacking in flavor and was too finely ground to give laab its nice, sandy texture.
So, as I was working on the recipe for the beloved Spicy Minced Chicken Salad of Northern Thailand (Laab / Larb Gai), I fell down a rabbit hole of toasted rice powder. This ground, toasted rice is not complicated to make. It’s made with one ingredient (rice), and I found myself wondering why I’ve never made it before.
Moral of the story = make this easy ingredient yourself. It’s so easy! Here’s how to do it:
There is only one essential ingredient in this recipe – rice. In Northern Thailand, sticky rice is king (see the Guide to Essential Thai Ingredients for more on common Thai rice varieties), so sticky rice is usually used to make Toasted Rice Powder. If you don’t have sticky rice around, you can use jasmine rice for a very similar result.
Optional: If you have access to kaffir lime leaves (again, see the guide for more details), adding one or two leaves will add a subtle, unique kaffir flavor to the toasted rice powder. It’s great, but again, totally optional.
Step 1: Toast in a Wok
Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat. As the pan is heating, add rice (and kaffir lime leaf if using) and cook, stirring constantly, until it becomes a very dark golden brown, about 10 minutes.
The rice will smoke quite a bit as it cooks and will smell very fragrant, almost burned. As long as none of the grains show signs of burning (turning black in spots), keep going until all of the grains are an even, deep golden brown color. If any rice grains do start to burn, be sure to reduce the heat.
If you’re using a kaffir lime leaf for flavor, it will toast right along with the rice and will become very dry and crisp.
Remove the wok / skillet from the heat and continue stirring until the pan cools down a bit. Let the rice sit in the pan until totally cooled down.
Step 2: Grind Rice
Transfer the rice (and kaffir lime leaf if you used it) to a coffee / spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind until the rice forms a smooth, even powder that still has some texture. The grains within the powder should be slightly uneven which gives the powder a perfect texture for laab / larb.
Spice Grinder vs. Mortar and Pestle
In testing, the mortar and pestle was slightly preferable to the coffee / spice grinder in making toasted rice powder. The electric grinder made all of the grains very round and even. The mortar and pestle resulted in a slightly uneven powder which is actually preferable – it means that when you use it in cooking some grains remain intact while others dissolve and thicken the sauce it’s used in.
However, if you don’t have a mortar and pestle, don’t worry – the spice grinder result was just fine! See the photos below for the difference.
- Spice Grinder – A small electric grinder like this one is great for grinding fresh spices or for a variety of other uses in Thai cooking. Be sure to get a dedicated one to use for spices. Don’t use the same grinder you use for coffee or your coffee might start to taste like Thai food!
- Mortar and Pestle – This is a more traditional method for grinding the rice and is a great investment if you make a lot of Thai food from scratch or like to grind your own spices.
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok – Almost any Thai recipe you can think of can be made in a wok. This inexpensive wok has been a staple in my kitchen for 5+ years. If you’re not ready for a wok to take up space in your kitchen, a large heavy skillet or Dutch oven will work great as well.
Thai Toasted Rice Powder (Khao Khua)
- Mortar and Pestle
- Coffee/Spice Grinder
- 2/3 cup Uncooked Thai Sticky Rice (see note)
- 1 Kaffire Lime Leaf (optional, see note)
- Heat a wok or large skillet over medium heat. As the pan is heating, add rice and kaffir lime leaf and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice becomes dark golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Note: The rice will smoke quite a bit as it cooks and will smell very fragrant, almost burned. As long as none of the grains show signs of burning / turning black in spots), keep going until all of the grains are an even, deep golden brown color. If any rice grains do start to burn, be sure to reduce the heat.)
- Take the wok / skillet off the heat and continue stirring until the pan cools down a bit.
- Let the rice sit in the pan until completely cool.
- Transfer the rice and kaffir lime leaf to a coffee / spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle to grind until it forms a smooth, even powder that still has some texture. (The grains within the powder should be slightly uneven which gives the powder a perfect texture for laab.)
- Store toasted rice powder in a sealed jar at room temperature for up to 2 weeks or in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
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