Thai Basil Chicken


Thai Basil Chicken 


Thai chicken stir-fried with basil (“Gai Pad Bai Horapa”) is the sort of dish that is served along with several other savory dishes in a Thai dinner, which is inevitably based around rice, particularly Jasmine rice. The other dishes might include a curry, a vegetable stir-fry, a soup, a salad, and various condiments (but not fried or boiled noodles, which are for lunch or snack).  Collectively these dishes are referred to as “Gup Khao,” or “With Rice.”


My wife Christina, though American-born, grew up in Thailand in a mixed American and Thai environment. We were married in Bangkok, her home town. She is my authority on Thai cuisine and customs, as is my Thai sister-in-law, Nai, married to Christina’s oldest brother, and who is from Chiang Mai.


Basil Chicken is amazingly easy to make, aside possibly from finding Asian basil, Thai fish sauce (“Nam Pla”) and Chinese or Thai “Oyster Sauce.” Asian basil, sometimes called “Thai,” has light purple stems and flowers and is the same as the Vietnamese use in their cold basil rolls and their rice-noodle soup named “Pho.” (It’s easily grown in a home garden or pot.) All three ingredients are available at Asian stores where Southeast Asians shop. Italian basil can be substituted for Asian, but the flavor is somewhat different. Use many less of the large European basil leaves than the small Asian basil leaves, and cut them each into several pieces.


Here is my recipe, which makes enough to serve four to six people if there are other savory dishes, plus, of course, rice, which is the basis of most Asian meals. (Check the index in this blog for cooking jasmine rice, as well as that other great Asian rice, basmati). Because of the oyster sauce, which is typically made with wheat, this dish is not gluten-free unless a gluten-free oyster sauce is used. Fish sauce does not include wheat or any other source of gluten.


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 cloves garlic

1-2 hot Thai type chili peppers, or 1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried crushed pepper flakes

25 small Asian basil leaves (save about six of these for garnishing)

3 tablespoons oil such as peanut, sunflower or canola, not olive

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2 teaspoons Chinese or Thai oyster sauce

6 tablespoons water


On a cutting board, trim fat and any tough parts off the chicken. Split the chicken flat-wise (“butterfly”), then cut each piece across into 1/8-inch shreds. Mix these thoroughly with the cornstarch. Place on a platter for the ingredients.


Peel and dice the garlic. Add to the platter in a different pile. Similarly finely chop the chilies (or use pepper flakes) and place them on the platter. Pick the basil leaves off the stems and put them on the platter. Reserve about six for garnish.


Heat a wok or heavy frying pan to medium high. Add the oil then the garlic, and stir and fry a few seconds as the garlic sizzles, but do not let it brown. Add the chicken, and stir quickly, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the chicken has lost most of its raw color.


Stir in the hot peppers and the oyster and fish sauces. Stir and fry briefly then add the water. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan, ten or fifteen seconds, or until there is no raw color in the chicken and a sauce has thickened. Turn off the heat and stir in the  basil leaves other than those reserved for garnish. Stir ten seconds. Taste the sauce and if it needs a little salt add some.


Spoon carefully onto an oval platter. Place the reserved basil and push it into the hot dish a little to soften.


Serve with unsalted jasmine rice, preferably with other Thai di




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