SPICY THAI BASIL CHICKEN
This recipe is my take on the classic Thai dish called Pad Kra Pao Gai. Full of fragrant Thai ingredients with silky, soft chicken morsels coated in a spicy, salty, slightly sweet sauce finished with loads of basil and served with a steaming bowl of rice.
In Thailand, this dish may be likened to fast food as it’s something quick, easy and full of flavour that lots of Thai people eat regularly. To find Pad Kra Pao in Thailand, you simply have to follow your nose as it’s one of the most popular street foods. You will find its alluring aroma at a simple food vendor but also on many restaurant menus. My favourite is when the Thai vendors make it fresh for you at their roadside stall, cooking it up there and then. Other times, they have it pre-made in a big tray, and they just scoop it up and pour it over some rice. Sometimes they mix up the protein, or it comes with a crispy fried egg on top too.
Did you know? Thai people have been adding so-called holy basil to their dishes for at least 4000 years. It was discovered around 2450-2500 B.C.
Chef Dylan Tip: In Thailand, they use holy basil in this dish, and it has a wonderful aroma and a lovely lemony bite. It is very similar to Italian basil, so I use Italian stuff if I can’t find holy basil. I like to use smaller organic chicken breasts for this dish, as the bigger birds tend to have more water content, and you want to fry the chicken really quickly on high heat.
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand, 2012
I’m awoken by the excited giggles of two of my fellow passengers as they pass our cabin. An image of last night’s hair-raising overnight voyage flashes through my mind, so I quickly focus on the gentle lapping of waves on the side of the yacht, and I take a big sigh of relief, re-orientating myself to my surroundings. We have arrived safe and sound in the calm waters of Maya Bay. The very place the iconic movie “The Beach”, starring Leonard DiCaprio, was filmed. "First boat to shore leaves in 30 minutes!” I hear the captain of the yacht yell.
As I clamber up onto the upper deck from the sleeping quarters, the beauty of this place takes my breath away. Under a vast clear blue sky, huge limestone cliffs loom over us like ancient monoliths seemingly floating upon the crystal-clear aquamarine sea, shimmering as mesmerisingly as a freshly polished opal. The air is fresh, and as I take a long deep breath, it tastes slightly salty. “This is what dreams are made of”, I turn and say to my sweetheart. “I can’t wait to taste some authentic Thai food”, I add, rubbing my hands in delight. “You won’t taste anything if you don’t hurry up and get on the boat to shore", says Lochie, our skipper for the day and our voyage to land, and we quickly descend down the ladder to the awaiting inflatable rib.
“All Aboard”, cries Lochie. “Next stop, the idyllic island of Koh Phi”, and the whole crew cheer “Ahoo! Ahoo! Ahoo!” as we gain speed skimming across the bay. In only a short time, we make our way to shore, and Lochie expertly beaches the rib onto the sand, nestling between the myriad uniquely shaped Thai longboats. Each boat with its own set of ribbons displayed with all the colours of the rainbow as far as the eye can see. “Ok, guys, you’ve got two hours to explore, and then we’ll meet up for lunch at the ‘Blue Lagune’, my favourite restaurant”, Lochie informs us with his hands cupped around his mouth.
We set off to explore with a stroll along the irresistible pristine white sandy beach. The buzz of the island is wonderful as we take it all in. It’s a stark contrast to our previous days at sea. We watch the keen fishermen loading up their boats surrounded by backpackers tanning themselves while sipping coconut filled cocktails. There are lots of nationalities with Russian tourists taking selfies and haggling with the local beach vendors, and we make our way past a bunch of bare-chested British lads passing a rugby ball to each other in-between sipping beers from a cooler. The hours pass quickly, and we join the rest of the group, who are seated in the courtyard of the ‘Blue Lagune’ restaurant.
“Are you ready to order?” asks the waitress with her pen poised. Around the table, orders begin flying at her. Finally, she looks at me expectingly with raised eyebrows. "I’ll have the Pad Kra Pao please”, I reply. “Very good choice, sir. It’s the house specialty”. "You like spicy?” she asks. “A little”, I reply. “Thai spicy or white man spicy?” she jokes, and the whole table bursts into laughter “white man spicy, please”, I say, blushing. “No problem”, she winks and flips the pad closed and heads to the kitchen.
If you are looking for a quick week-night whip up, give this recipe a try. You’ll then know why the Thai's love this dish so much.
PREP TIME: 5 mins
COOKING TIME: 5 mins
1 small red chilli, or to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red cayenne chilli or another mild chilli, chopped
½ small onion, diced
300g chicken breast, diced into small pieces 2-3mm
3 tbsp LUCK DRAGON ASIAN sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
2 tbsp water
1 ½ tsp brown sugar
1 ½ cup basil leaves, loosely packed
vegetable oil, as needed
3 cups cooked jasmine rice for serving
In a wok or a large frypan, fry the onion, garlic and chilli in a little vegetable oil over medium-high heat until the garlic starts to turn golden. Remove from the pan and place in a small bowl.
Turn the frypan up to high heat, then add some oil and fry the chicken and cook for 3 mins.
Add the fish sauce, my LUCK DRAGON ASIAN sauce, sugar and chilli and garlic mix back in and stir to combine until the chicken is cooked (1 min or so).
Remove from heat and stir in the whole basil leaves (or roughly chopped).
Serve with cooked rice and extra drizzle of Luck Dragon. Yummo.