One of my favouritest people, A, loves Thai food. And is a pretty talented home cook himself. This Thai Basil Chicken is inspired by a delicious meal he made for me. Here it is, pictured below. It was a wonderfully balanced plate: basil chicken (top left), sticky rice, and a divine beef salad (bottom right). The chicken had sweet notes of basil offset by fiery bird’s eye chillies; and the beef salad was spicy and had the tanginess of generous amounts of lime juice. A. knows his way around the staples of Thai cuisine, and knew not to overdo the fish sauce. It was fun watching him cook, and I’ve been wanting to recreate the meal he made me ever since.
Though my mother makes thai food often, I am yet to build a relationship with fish sauce and oyster sauce and rice vinegar and lemon grass and galangal…but here goes! This is my third try at making this dish, and I think we have a winner. I consulted the amazing Thai food blog SheSimmers for this version. Instead of the ground meat that the traditional recipe calls for Leela suggests chopping up boneless chicken. I liked the texture much better.
The first couple of times I made it I got the cooking technique wrong. Rather than a braise, this is more a quick stir-fry. High heat, a dash of this and that, and onto a plate ready to go. Though not as good as A’s :), and no match for the overused, deliciously coated wok of a street stall, this version has the delicious taste of charred onions and garlic deglazed with fish and soy sauce. I had to scrape the pan for the juicy bits.
A fringe benefit of this foray was the opportunity to visit our local Asian grocery store. Though I stepped in only for a couple of things, I had a fun time looking through the isle of five hundred billion different kinds of noodles, dehydrated mushrooms, and the bric a brac of stainless steal and cheap porcelain plates, soup spoons and dishes. I couldn’t resist buying a box of bamboo chopsticks.
The recipe below is based on several recipes. Leela at SheSimmers tells us that it’s not Pad Ka-Phrao (Thai Basil Chicken) if we use sweet basil leaves, as I have done. She says that authentic Pad Ka Phrao is made with holy basil, which you can identify by its jagged edges. She also calls for oyster sauce and two kinds of soy sauces. After trying out different combinations, I found that this simplified version gets great, tasty results. And I’m no purist.
Thai Basil Chicken
4 Bird’s Eye Chillies + 1/2 Onion, chopped + 2 cloves garlic, sliced
+ 1/2 Cup Thai Basil, chopped
+ 1/2 tbsp Fish Sauce (Three Crabs Brand- the best according to Kylie Kwong)
+ 1 tsp Soy Sauce
+ 3 boneless chicken thighs, chopped
1. On medium heat, fry onions, garlic and chillies together till the onions are caramelized and the mixture forms a paste.
2. Turn the heat up a bit and deglaze the pan (and mixture) with the fish and soy sauces.
3. Add the chopped, boneless chicken pieces and stir fry on hight heat, until cooked through (about 15 minutes). It’s important to chop the chicken into small pieces so they cook through quickly. Add small amounts of water if the pan begins to burn. I held off on the water and stirred the mixture well. I think the charred onion bits are delicious!
4. Turn the heat off and add the torn pieces of basil into the pan. Let wilt.
5. Serve immediately over rice.