Let’s head to Thailand for the traditional pad kra pao gai, a spicy chili and basil flavored chicken dish.
Other names of the dish include khai phad kaprow,
phat krapao kai, phad kaprow gai, and of course ผัดกระเพราไก่ in Thai.
In Thai, pad kra pao gai literally means “fried chicken and basil”.
The term basil comes from the ancient Greek word basilikón which means “royal plant”.
Basil or Roman basil is an aromatic plant. It is sometimes called great basil or Saint-Joseph’s-wort, “king of herbs” and the “royal herb”. Originally from South Asia and Central Africa, basil was introduced to Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. From there, it reached Rome and spread throughout Southern Europe during the 2nd century.
Today, basil is very popular all over the world, and many species are available
The basil I used in today’s Thai recipe has nothing to do with the “common basil” you would find on a pizza, in a panzanella or a minestrone, and which is widely used in Italian and European cuisines.
One can not talk about Thai cuisine without mentioning all the varieties of basil that are used in Thai recipes. In Thailand, basil is sacred ! Actually, do you know the name of the basil I used for my pad kra pao gai today? “Holy basil” of course!
Basil in Asian cuisine
Let’s talk about the main basil varieties used in Asian cuisine:
– Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum): it has marked purple inflorescences, and a taste of mint and clove. Its plant is large and its leaves are green and streaked with veins, sometimes of purple color. This very fragrant basil is used in hot cooked dishes such as fish, seafood, and soups.
– Siam queen Thai basil: almost the same as the previous one. Its leaves are small and dark green, its flowers are small and purple. Its fragrance is very intense and evokes a mixture of anise, clove and mint. In Asia, it is widely used in curries, salads, as well as fish, seafood, and meat dishes.
– Horopha Thai basil: has a lighter flavor with hints of anise. Its leaves are green and serrated, and its stems are red. It is used and much appreciated in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia . It is found in curries, fish and seafood dishes, vegetables dishes, salads and soups.
– Holy basil (ocimum sanctum) is a spicy basil. There are two varieties, a white (light green) and a red (purple/reddish) variety. Its leaves are slightly hairy and very fragile compared to other varieties of basil. It has a peppermint flavor that greatly increases when cooked; therefore it is better to use this variety of basil in cooked dishes than to eat it raw.
Holy basil is said to originally come from India, where it has been known and used for more than 5000 years, under the name of tulsi. It is used in Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) for its remarkable healing properties. It is considered a true elixir of life, promoting health and longevity. No wonder some of tulsi’s other names include “holy basil”, “the queen of herbs”, “the incomparable” or the “mother of medicine and nature”. Ayurvedic medicine says that holy basil has a “rasayana” effect, literally “that it brings back to health” by rebalancing the “chakras”, the energy centers. The first benefit of holy basil is to fight physical and mental exhaustion. And, it’s really not a legend, holy basil is known for its adaptogenic effect, in other words its capacity to increase the body’s ability to adapt to stress and manage it.
Since holy basil is a bit harder to find in Asian stores than Thai basil, it is possible to use Thai basil in the ka pao gai pad recipe. However, it is really worth trying to find some! Or why not plant it on your balcony?
Golden Mountain sauce
The second key ingredient that gives pad kra pao gai its distinctive flavor is Golden Mountain sauce, a sauce considered to be the secret ingredient of Thai cuisine … A secret that is not so well kept, since it can be found in all Asian grocery stores these days. This sauce has been used for more than a century in Thailand, bringing a particular flavor to several dishes. Golden Mountain is a vegetable sauce, made from fermented soybeans and salt. It doesn’t taste like soy sauce, and it is a little bit sweet since it contains sugar as well as a variety of spices.
And what would life be without a hint of spice?
Let’s now introduce the third key ingredient of my Thai recipe, Thai pepper. One of the nice things about this dish is that the intensity of the pepper is counterbalanced by the freshness of the basil in a nice blend of tasty aromas!
This pad kra pao gai, which is one of the most popular dishes of Thai cuisine, was very much appreciated by my sons.
Khõ hai dja!
Pad kra pao gai is a delicious traditional Thai dish consisting of chicken perfumed with sacred basil and chili.
- 4 cutlets chicken , cut into small pieces
- 7 cloves garlic
- 2 shallots , chopped
- 4 to 10 red chili peppers , according to taste
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons Golden Mountain sauce or sweet soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 bunch holy basil leaves or Thai basil leaves, julienned
- 4 eggs
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- Pound the garlic and chilies together with the mortar and pestle.
- Pick the leaves from the bunch of basil and discard stems.
- Heat a non-stick wok or saucepan over high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the chilies and garlic. Sauté them for about 15 seconds without letting them burn or dry. Add the shallots.
- Add the chicken and stir continuously for 5 minutes or until it is completely cooked. If the chicken begins to dry, simply add a small splash of water.
- Add the fish sauce and Golden Mountain sauce. Continue to fry for about 40 seconds.
- Add the basil and mix very quickly, then turn off the heat immediately. The basil must only cook for about 5 seconds, it will continue to cook with the heat of the chicken. This step is important because if you cook the basil for too long, it loses some of its flavor and becomes slightly bitter in addition to being burnt.
- Heat vegetable oil in a wok or frying pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, crack and add the eggs to fry them.
As soon as the egg whites generate bubbles, pour some hot oil over the top of the egg (do not turn the egg over).
- The white must be toasted and the yellow must still be runny.
- Serve with white rice.