After I graduated college, my mom sent me on a trip to Thailand and Laos. Here, I rediscovered this spicy hot stir fry of juicy minced chicken, snuggled up close to sweet bites of basil. The taste wasn’t new to me, but at the same time it was. I found something so familiar and comfortable in this everyday Thai meal, that even though my mouth was completely on fire, I welcomed the heat.
This quick stir fry is fairly simple to make. Depending on where you live, the only trick may be in locating Thai basil. The sweet kind is the most common (and it smells so, so lovely). If you can’t find Thai peppers, you can substitute with serranos, jalapeños or fresnos. I suppose you can even use regular Italian basil too, but I’ve never tried it that way. There’s probably an Asian grocery store closer to you than you realize, I myself live near three. And I’m in no big city.
This can be a quick meal, and if made truly authentic, the heat from the Thai chili peppers will turn your insides out. I’m not as daring when it comes to spice, so I keep it at a minimum using only two to three peppers in my dish. Just enough heat to sizzle the lips, but not enough to burn the belly.
Also, whenever possible, I grind my own meat in the food processor. If you don’t have one, you can mince the meat with a knife. I like the control of knowing what is actually in my ground up cuts, and I can also use the bones for broth later on. Any meat will work for this meal, but I really like the tenderness of dark chicken, preferably thighs.
Spicy Thai Chicken with Basil, or Gai Pad Ka Pow
2 large bunches of Thai sweet basil (or Holy basil if you can find it)
1 lb. ground dark chicken (meat from approx. four chicken thighs)
oil for frying
1 shallot, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2-7 Thai chili peppers, minced (if you want it authentic burn-your-insides-spicy, do at least 6)
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Wash and remove the leaves from the basil steams, you should have about 2 cups. Set aside.
Heat a pan on high heat. Add enough oil to generously cover the bottom of the pan and give it a good swirl. Once hot, saute the shallots, garlic and Thai peppers until the garlic starts to turn golden, about 30 seconds.
Throw in the ground chicken, stirring constantly to break up the pieces. Fry for a couple of minutes until the chicken is just cooked and no longer pink. Next add in the sugar and fish sauce and continue to stir.
Turn the heat down to medium high and add in the basil leaves and mix until the basil starts to wilt.
Remove from heat and serve hot with rice. A fried egg on top is also really tasty.