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Spicy Basil Chicken – Gkai Pad Gkaprow (or Gai Pad Kaprao)*

A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit
Recipe Copyright © 2004 Kasma Loha-unchit.

This recipe is for one of the favorite dishes of the Thai people. They will make Basil Anything – substitute the chicken with pork, beef, squid, shrimp, seafood, . . . anything you like.

See also Michael's blog on Basil Salmon.

(Click images to see larger version.)               

Basil ChickenIngredients

  • 2-3 Tbs. peanut oil for stir-frying
  • 10-12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2-3 shallots, thinly sliced (or substitute with 1/2 cup sliced onion) – optional
  • 1 lb. boneless chicken thighs, coarsely chopped, or cut into small bite-size pieces
  • 12-20 Thai chillies (prik kee noo), cut into very thin rounds; or substitute 4-6 serrano, jalapeño or fresno peppers, cut into large slivers with seeds
  • 2 small kaffir lime leaves (bai ma-gkrood), very finely slivered (optional)
  • 2-3 tsp. black soy sauce (the semi-sweet kind), or to taste
  • 2 Tbs. fish sauce (nam bplah), or to taste (see Cooking to Taste)
  • 1 cup fresh Thai holy basil (bai gka-prow), or Thai sweet basil (bai horapa) leaves and flower buds; or use 1/4 cup dried holy basil, soaked to soften plus 1/2 to 1 cup fresh Thai sweet basil (bai horapa)
  • Dash of ground white pepper

Cooking Basil ChickenPrepare the ingredients as instructed. Leave the fresh basil leaves whole; the flower buds may also be used. The dried holy basil will soften when soaked in tap water for about 10 to 15 minutes. Pull off and discard the hard stems. Drain.

Heat a wok until its surface is smoking hot. Swirl in the oil to coat the wok surface. Wait a few seconds for the oil to heat, then stir in the garlic, followed a few seconds later with the shallots or onion. Stir another 15 to 20 seconds before adding the chicken. Stir-fry 1 to 2 minutes, or until most of the chicken has changed color on the outside and is no longer pink.

Toss in the chillies, slivered kaffir lime leaves (if using), and softened dried holy basil (if using). Sprinkle black soy sauce over the mixture and stir-fry for another 15 to 20 seconds. Season to taste with fish sauce, then stir in the fresh basil. Toss well. Stir-fry another 1/2 to 1 minute, or until the basil is wilted and the chicken cooked through. Sprinkle with white pepper. Stir and transfer to a serving dish, or spoon directly over individual plates of plain steamed rice.

Serves 6 to 8 with other dishes in a shared family-style meal.

Notes and Pointers

Basil Chicken This is a good and easy stir-fried dish and one of the favorites among Thai people. It is served over rice as a one-dish meal – for breakfast or for lunch, often topped with a crispy fried egg. Of course, it also appears frequently as one of the courses in a shared family-style meal.

If you are not able to find fresh holy basil, this recipe can be substituted with any fresh basil. I have also tried it with a mixture of fresh Thai sweet basil (bai horapa) and fresh mint leaves with good results.

The smaller the chicken is cut, the greater the surface area to coat with the flavors of the aromatic herbs and sauces, and the more flavorful the stir-fry will be. Some of my students have reported good results using ground turkey. In Thailand, this dish is often made with chopped pork, or bird meat, especially in fast-food, curry-rice shops (rahn kao gkaeng), where an enormous variety of dishes are prepared ahead of time and served over steaming white rice to order. When I travel in the rural areas, I often stop at such rice shops in small towns for lunch. Some of the best pad gka-prow can be had at these inconspicuous, no-frills, open-air places. They are made particularly spicy to help preserve the meat, as the dishes are prepared early in the morning and served throughout the day until they are sold out.

One of our particular favorites is to make it with ground pork and lots of Thai chillies. For pork, make sure you use holy basil (Bai Gkaprow), as it goes especially well with pork.

Try the above recipe also with fresh seafood (in this case, no need to chop) – shrimps, scallops, mussels, clams, crab and firm-flesh fish, such as fresh halibut and salmon.

Kasma taught this recipe in the Evening Series Beginning Class #2. Also see Michael's blog on Basil Pork – Moo Pad Kaprao.

*Because the Thai language has its own script, there are different ways of transliterating Thai into English. The more phonetic version is Gkai Pad Gkaprao; the more usual spelling is Gai Pad Kaprao. See A Note on Thai Pronunciation and Spelling.

Recipe Copyright © 2004 Kasma Loha-unchit. All rights reserved.

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