After several years of working pretty much constantly in the Theatre District in Boston, I was bored with the food options from the places I was frequenting. As I’ll say quite often, I was a seriously picky eater as a child, and didn’t really start exploring many things until my later 20s. The sad part of my predicament was that the Theatre District abutted Chinatown, and there were dozens of options, if I’d only start trying things…
One day found me with a group of friends at Montiens, which is the only Thai restaurant in the Theatre District. As I don’t think I’d ever had Thai food before, I was a bit terrified of the menu. Reading over the descriptions, I saw so many things that I didn’t eat I was nervous about whether I’d find anything to eat. I noticed one item, Spicy Basil Stir Fry (Gra Prow), that had onions, peppers, mushrooms, and sauce over rice and protein of my choice. I really didn’t have many options, so I decided to give it a try. I liked everything sans the mushrooms, so I figured what the heck?
After my first bite, I was hooked. It started a love affair with my favorite Thai dish. Many people go for curries, but I’m a spicy basil guy! In Thailand, this is often served as a breakfast dish, with a fried egg on top. A couple restaurants I’ve tried over the years that make this dish add egg, usually a smaller amount added to the rice. While I’ve never tried it for breakfast, it’s good either way…though I tend to make it without the egg.
After moving from Boston in 2011, I found that none of the Thai places in Miami made it quite the way I had grown used to eating it. It wasn’t bad, just not what I had set as my benchmark for this dish. Digging around on the internet, I realized that this is probably one of the easiest Thai dishes to cook.
I chased down the ingredients, all basic items which are used in almost all Thai dishes, and set about experimenting. I’ve been fiddling with the recipe on and off for the last five years, and I think I’ve finally settled on the “one.”
This is one of the first things I cooked for Kelly when we started dating. I’ve probably made it a couple of times a month for the last five years, so it’s one of the few recipes I don’t need to look up and felt comfortable cooking for a lady I was already quite smitten with. Thankfully she loved it, and it’s something we continue to make quite a bit. It’s fairly versatile, you can use whatever protein you’ve got on hand, and works well with tofu for your vegetarian friends (the recipe does contain fish and oyster sauce, as does most Thai food). It can easily be adjusted for your spice preference from mild to“make you cry with every bite” (I like it somewhere in the middle).
A bit of a note on ingredients: Everything except the main ingredient, Thai basil, is easily found at your average grocery store. You’re likely to find the Thai basil at your local Asian market or farmers market.
If you don’t generally stock items like fish sauce, oyster sauce, etc., I suggest waiting to go to the Asian market, as their items tend to be a fraction of the cost of the same stuff at your local grocery chain.
If you’ve never been to an actual Asian market, they can be a bit daunting but are well worth the trip. You’ll often find cheaper produce, fresh seafood you don’t see at your supermarket, and weird/strange ingredients you’ve never seen before! Here is an interesting read about why Asian markets tend to be cheaper and better than your average supermarket.
Also if it’s spring or summer, Thai basil is easy to grow! Plant 4-6 plants alongside your sweet basil, and you’ll have a good stock all summer long!
Thai Spicy Basil Stir Fry with Chicken
Serves 2, with leftovers for lunch
- 1.5 lb boneless chicken, either breast or thighs (you can substitute any protein)
- 3 T. Thai fish sauce
- 3 T. oyster sauce
- 1 T. soy sauce
- 1 t. coconut sugar or light brown sugar
- 2 T. Thai roasted chili paste
- 1/3 cup of water or broth (chicken or veggie)
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 onion
- 1/2 green pepper
- 1/2 red pepper
- 1 cup Thai basil leaves
- 2-4 Thai chili peppers, optional depending on spicy level desired
- Mix sauces, sugar and chili paste. Add water until you’ve got between 1/2-3/4 cup of sauce.
- Slice chicken fairly thinly. Cut larger pieces to desired size.
- Slice onions and peppers into 1/8″ strips. Dice garlic and hot peppers fairly fine.
- Add 2 tbsp of oil to pan and heat until it’s just about smoking.
- Carefully add chicken, cook for 3-4 minutes, keeping chicken moving in pan.
- After 3-4 minutes add onions and peppers, cooking 3-4 minutes or they start to get soft.
- Add garlic and thai peppers and cook about a minute, until they start to get fragrant but not burned.
- Add sauce mixture, stirring really well to coat everything, cooking for 2 minutes.
- Add shredded basil leaves. Cook until wilted.
- Serve with steamed jasmine rice.
- You can substitute shrimp, pork, beef or tofu for the chicken, though you’ll need to vary your cooking times and sequence based on meat choice. With beef and shrimp, I toss onions and peppers first for a couple minutes before I add beef or shrimp. Pork cooks similar to the chicken. For tofu, I suggest cooking tofu first, removing from the pan, then cooking veggies, adding tofu back to pan just before adding the sauces.
- This recipe has three items that can be adjusted to vary the spice/heat: Type of chili paste, amount of hot peppers, and amount of garlic.
- I almost always use my own homemade chili paste, which is much spicer than the supermarket variety roasted Thai chili paste. I’ll post the recipe soon! The store-bought roasted chili paste is pretty sweet, and without diced chili peppers you’ll still get a yummy dish, but it will be on the mild side.
- We love garlic, so we tend to go heavier with it. You could go with only two cloves, but I wouldn’t use less than that. More than three cloves starts to overpower the basil.
- You don’t need to add the chopped Thai chiles at all. The recipe takes a more sweet route, which is fine. We always remove seeds and veins when we use fresh chiles. Be careful handing chiles! Either wear gloves or scrub your hands with soap when you’re done cutting them, and avoid touching any part of your body until you wash your hands or else you may regret it (trust me, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way…several times!).