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Basil Salmon

Michael Babcock, September 3rd, 2011

Here’s a variation on one of the most popular dishes in Thailand – Pad Ka-prao – meaning “stir-fried with (holy) basil.” Almost anything you can think of – pork, beef, chicken, fish, shrimp – can be stir-fried with basil and served over rice. One of my favorite variations of the dish, and a staple when Kasma is out of town because it’s so easy to cook, is Salmon Stir-fried with Basil.

(Click images to see larger version.)

Basil Salmon

Basil Salmon

Pad Ka-prao is one dish that I’ve learned to cook very well. I remember the first time I ever cooked it. It was back in 1992 when I took the beginning cooking series from Kasma; she teaches Spicy Basil Chicken in the second class. As she demonstrated it all looked so very easy and natural. So I decided to cook it for myself at home. That very first time I found out that Kasma’s ease was a bit deceptive; when I cooked it, everything seemed to happen way to fast! Each time I made the dish it became easier and the process seemed to slow down. Practice can, indeed, make perfect.

Basil Salmon Close-up

Basil Salmon - close-up

Learning to cook the dish well has been one of my lessons about the process of learning something new. When I first cooked the dish, my nose was in the recipe because I was so afraid of doing something wrong. As I became more comfortable with the steps, I’ve been able to internalize the recipe and learn how to adapt it to different things.

The basic recipe is Kasma’s Spicy Basil Chicken – Gkai Pad Gkaprow This recipe is a good starting point.

For the dish pictured here, I made a few changes. Because I use Thai sweet basil, rather than holy basil, it is actually pad horapa, stir-fried with Thai sweet basil.

Basil Salmon – Salmon Pad Horapa

Recipe by Michael Babcock
Adapted from a recipe by Kasma Loha-unchit


  • 3 TBs. duck fat or lard
  • 10-12 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 red Fresno chillies, in strips
  • 3/4 lb. (335 grams) salmon, in fairly large bite-sized pieces
  • 2+ tsp. black soy sauce, to taste
  • 1-2 Tbs. (or so) fish sauce, to taste
  • Leaves of 1 large bunch Thai sweet basil – bai horapa

Heat the wok until smoking; add the fat, let melt; toss in the garlic; stir-fry for a bit; add in the chillies; stir-fry a bit longer; add the salmon; stir-fry for a bit; sprinkle in and mix the black soy sauce and fish sauce; add the basil and stir-fry until wilted. Serve over rice.


The key to the recipe is not to overcook the salmon; make the pieces a bit larger than bite size and make sure it’s still slightly pink on the inside; you’ll want to work pretty fast, not stir too much (you don’t want the pieces to fall apart), and add the basil early enough so that it will wilt before the salmon overcooks.

This is one dish where I prefer bai horapa – Thai sweet basil – to bai ka-prao – holy basil; I think it goes better with the salmon.

As always, this is a dish you should make your own. None of the quantities are set in stone. Try it with more garlic; or more chillies; or more basil; or less fish sauce. After you’ve cooked it once, try it again within a couple of days to see how the new variation tastes.

[1.] You may notice that I have transliterated the Thai word for holy basil at ka-prao and Kasma has transliterated it as gkaprow. The most common transliteration that you’ll find on the web is actually kra-pao, which makes no sense at all because in the Thai spelling there is no “r” after the initial consonant.

The Thai alphabet differs from the English alphabet. The initial consonant for gkaprow or ka-prao is gaw – gai (or gkaw – gkai), the sound “g” (or “gk”) as used in the word gai (or gkai), meaning chicken. The official Thai transliteration for this consonant, which is actually a cross between a “g” and a “k” is “k”; Kasma prefers to transliterate it as “gk” because this it conveys the sound more accurately. The second syllable can be transliterated either as “prao” (as is official) or “prow” as Kasma has done.

The point is that any spelling of a Thai word that uses English characters rather than Thai characters is very likely not a very good representation of the actual word, particularly because the spelling with Thai characters also gives you the correct tone.

(You can also read A Note on Thai Pronunciation and Spelling.)

Written by Michael Babcock, September 2011

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