Krapow Gai (Thai-Style Basil Chicken)

This dish comes from Thailand via America’s Test Chicken who took a solemn look at what is considered Thai street food, unlocked its mysterious ingredients then made it fool-proof for those of us who aren’t Thai. It is traditionally served in Thailand with kai dao, literally an “egg star”–a fried egg perched on top of the rice. It is not usually served with a vegetable accompaniment except for garnishes like sliced fresh tomato and cucumber and chopped scallion and cilantro. These counteract the heat of the chili pepper in the mouth. For a cooked vegetable side, baby Chinese kale in oyster sauce would also be an excellent complement. I’ve made some adjustments to the ingredients by adding ranges. This recipe makes enough for 4 people.

2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
3-4 large garlic cloves, peeled
3-6 Thai red or green chilies, stemmed, plus more for serving
2 tablespoons fish sauce, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon oyster sauce (I used soy-ginger sauce)
1 teaspoon white vinegar, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon sugar, plus more for serving
1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken breast cut into 2-inch cubes
3 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
red pepper flakes, for serving

Garnishes (optional)
Slices of tomato and cucumber
Chopped scallion and cilantro
Fried egg

Prepare ingredients. Have all ingredients cut and chopped and ready for assembly. I recommend seeding the chilies if you want a less spicy dish. To my taste, three large chilies with seeds would be medium heat.

Prepare the base. In a food processor, combine 1 cup basil, garlic, and chilies. Pulse 3-5 one-second pulses then stop to scrape down the sides and pulse another 3-5 times. In a small bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the basil mixture with 1 tablespoon fish sauce, the oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Set aside.  Scrape the remaining basil mixture out of the bowl into a 12-inch skillet. Do not wash out the food processor work bowl.

Prepare the chicken. Put the chicken in the food processor work bowl with 1 tablespoon fish sauce. Pulse until meat is chopped into 1/4 inch pieces, about 6-8 one-second pulses. Scrape into a small bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Cook the vegetables. Add shallots and 1-2 tablespoons oil to the skillet. Cook on medium-low heat. The garlic and shallots will start to sizzle in 1 1/2 minutes. It truly does! If it doesn’t turn up the heat slightly. Cook, stirring constantly 5-8 minutes, or until the garlic and shallots are golden brown.

Cook the chicken. Add the chicken to the cooked vegetables. Turn the heat up to medium. Then stir constantly, taking care the break up the chicken with a spatula to ensure even cooking and no pink remains, about 2-4 minutes. Add reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and continue to cook about 1 minute. Stir in remaining cup of basil leaves and cook until the leaves are wilted, about 30-60 seconds.

Serve. I suggest serving the Krapow Gai over white or brown rice topped with a fried egg, with cooked or raw vegetables on the side. It is traditional to offer extra fish sauce, sugar, vinegar with sliced chilies in it, and pepper flakes so that the diner can adjust the seasonings to taste.  AJ, who misses Thai food greatly, enjoyed this dish very much. It was a little bit of home!

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