Mains, Quick Meals, Recipes

Thai Chilli Basil Chicken

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Thai chili and basil chicken

This Thai chilli basil chicken lives at the intersection of delicious and easy. It’s so good and as close as you can get to the taste of genuine Thai street food in your own kitchen.

Back in 2015 when we visited Thailand there was a street vendor that would set up shop every day on a ramshackle corner off the famous Khao San Road. Right around lunchtime an entire restaurant would materialize out of thin air – a patchwork of white folding tables, chairs, and even a white canopy to protect from the noontime sun (or on some days the odd torrential downpour.)

On the far side of this makeshift dining area was the kitchen – a flaming hot wok on a gas burner sitting stop a wheeled trolley and dishing out plate after plate to a lineup of hungry locals and tourists alike.

The first time we ventured over, interest piqued by the sudden appearance of a sidewalk restaurant where previously there had been empty pavement, we were surprised to find that there was no menu. There wasn’t even ordering. Not in the traditional sense where you tell the cook what you want. This was a one stop shop and the only thing served up was chilli and basil chicken.

It was my first time eating chilli and basil chicken also known as Pad Krapow Gai. I didn’t know prior to that point that it was a staple dish of sorts. I’d eaten at my share of Thai restaurants in Toronto – but as anyone who’s been to Thailand will undoubtedly know – Thai food on the ground is so much more complex than the well-trodden retinue of dishes we’re familiar with in the West.

Thai red chilli and kaffir lime leaves

After trying the chilli and basil chicken for the first time I was hooked – both on the idea of the dish and on that particular street vendor, who’s chilli basil chicken was so good that it lives on vividly in my memories all these years later.

Perfectly caramelized chicken, sticky with crispy fat and punctuated by hits of scorching chilli with sweet floral basil notes throughout. It’s beyond comprehension that so much flavour can be coaxed out of just a few ingredients prepared so masterfully.

While Thai food in Thailand is a special and incomparable culinary experience, if you can’t get to Thailand in a jiffy then you can approximate the experience by making this Thai chilli and basil chicken in your own kitchen.

Diced chicken thigh

This recipe calls for chicken thigh diced into small pieces. If you’re really short on time you can also use ground chicken, which is a fine substitute. If you do have the time I strongly recommend you dice chicken thigh because the slightly bigger and more varied size of the chicken pieces create more nuance and caramelize better than ground chicken.

You can also substitute the chicken with pork or tofu. Likewise cut into small pieces and prepared the same way.

Thai chilli and basil chicken

Aromatics

The base aromatics are garlic, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and chilli. Thai food is generally said to have 4 cardinal flavours: salty, sour, sweet and spicy. This dish hits the salty, spicy, and sweet notes with the addition of fish sauce, soy sauce, chilli, basil and brown sugar.

Ideally you will use Thai holy basil, as the flavour is slightly different from regular Italian style basil (more peppery than sweet) but I often can’t find it where I live so I substitute Italian style basil and it’s fine.

Additions & Omissions

There are so many different ways to make this dish. The only elemental aspects are the chilli and the basil – those two powerhouse flavours make most of the magic happen and all other ingredients are supporting actors even down to the protein source (chicken, pork, tofu etc.)

Kaffir lime: I like to add kaffir lime leaves to my Thai basil chicken but it isn’t absolutely necessary. You can also omit it if it’s difficult to find.

Thai chilli and basil chicken

Lemongrass: I added lemongrass this time because I happened to have a couple of stalks in the fridge. You can either include it or not. It adds a nice lemon note that melds well with the chilli and basil but if you want to keep things more defined then you can omit.

Shallots: I generally don’t use onion or shallot in East Asian stir-frys. It’s just the way I’ve become accustomed to doing things. Many people do include onions/shallots in this dish and if you are so inclined you can as well.

Vegetables: I didn’t add any vegetables this time but you can easily add diced bell peppers, green beans, carrots or even broccoli either to the stir fry itself or on the side.

Wheat flour: I generally use wheat flour as a thickener for sauces but if you are gluten intolerant feel free to substitute rice flour, corn starch or whatever other flour/starch you are accustomed to using as a thickener. You can also just replace the brown sugar and wheat flour altogether with something like oyster or even hoisin sauce.

If you like this simple weeknight meal you may also like Easy & Healthy Cashew Chicken or Vietnamese Vermicelli Bowls.

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Thai Chilli Basil Chicken

Thai chili and basil chicken

This Thai chilli basil chicken lives at the intersection of delicious and easy. It’s so good and as close as you can get to the taste of genuine Thai street food in your own kitchen.

  • Author: Cristina
  • Prep Time: 5
  • Cook Time: 15
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Weeknight Meal
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Asian
Scale

Ingredients

  • 500 grams / 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs diced into small pieces
  • 68 Thai bird’s eye chillies or 3 large generic red chillies, sliced very thinly
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or mashed
  • 2cm piece of ginger, minced or mashed
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves, sliced very thinly
  • 1 lemongrass stalk, cleaned and the white portion sliced very thinly into rings
  • 23 tbsp soy sauce
  • 23 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1.5 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp wheat flour
  • 1 cup basil, finely diced
  • 1 lime 
  • Jasmine or pandan rice for serving

Instructions

  • Dice up the chicken into pieces. Mash the garlic and ginger. Cut the lime into quarters, reserving two as garnish.
  • Add the chicken to a bowl, rub with half the garlic and ginger mix and the juice of one lime quarter. Let sit while you slice the chillies and herbs. 
  • Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. 
  • Add the chicken to the pan with the lemongrass and half the chillies then stir every so often until it’s begun to brown and release liquid at which point you can add the rest of the garlic, ginger and chillies as well as the kaffir lime leaves. 
  • Once the chicken has browned, sprinkle it with the brown sugar and flour. Stir to coat evenly and then add the fish sauce, soy sauce, and juice of another quarter lime. 
  • When the chicken is perfectly browned and aromatic, taste to see if it needs more soy sauce or sugar. If it’s too dry you can add a few spoonfuls of water. If the flavour balance is good then add the basil and turn off the heat. Mix it so the basil incorporates and wilts. Serve over pandan or jasmine rice with lime wedges as a garnish.

Keywords: thai chicken, thai basil chilli chicken, thai basil chicken, thai, chicken, chilli and basil, chilli and basil chicken, thai chilli and basil chicken

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