Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)

From humble origins as a quick street stall lunch, Thai Basil Chicken now rules the world of takeout Thai.

This stir-fry dish (which is commonly known as pad krapow gai, or
phat kaphrao in Thailand and Thai restaurants) is most often made with
chicken, but sometimes pork, seafood or beef. No matter what the
protein, basil is the most important ingredient. Traditionally, the dish
is made with holy basil (aka Thai holy basil),
a spicy white or red basil variant that gets even spicier when cooked.
But if holy basil is not available, thai basil, which is sweeter, is an
acceptable substitute. This dish is often topped with a fried egg,
cooked so the yolk is slightly runny.

A Brief History of Pad Krapow Gai

Not much information is available about the true origins of pad
krapow gai, but it has been a favorite and important dish for casual
dining for some time in Thailand.

At certain times in a country’s history, cuisine and culture become powerful tools of propaganda. During WW II Prime Minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram implemented a cultural policy to promote various local Thai dishes — including pad krapow gai.

Like pad thai and mango salad, pad krapow gai has been imported to
Europe and North America where the cleanness and sophistication of Thai
cooking has become massively popular both for in-restaurant dining and
takeout.

How to Prepare Pad Krapow Gai

This version of Thai Basil Chicken from allrecipes.com is a spicy, easy to prepare main course when served with rice.

Ingredients

1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sliced shallots
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp minced chilies or hot peppers
1 cup very thinly sliced fresh thai or holy basil leaves (regular Mediterranean basil is fine in a pinch)
2 cups hot cooked rice

Instructions

  • Whisk together chicken broth, oyster and fish sauces, soy, white and brown sugars in a bowl until well blended.
  • Heat a large skillet over high heat. Drizzle in oil. Add chicken and
    stir fry 2 to 3 minutes, then add the shallots, garlic and sliced
    chilies. Continue cooking for 2 or 3 more minutes, until the juices
    caramelize in the bottom of the pan. Add about a tablespoon of the sauce
    mixture to the skillet; cook and stir about 1 minute until sauce begins
    to caramelize.
  • Pour in the rest of the sauce. Cook and stir until sauce detaches
    from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook until sauce coats the meat,
    1 or 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in basil and cook for a
    few seconds as it wilts. Serve with rice.

Variations

Over decades, pad krapow gai has evolved into numerous variations with the addition of other ingredients such as Chinese century eggs
and Asian vegetables such as asparagus beans, baby corn, cowpeas,
banana peppers, Chinese kale and bamboo shoots. Check out this
mushroom-intensive, meat-free recipe
from the blog au pays piments, for example. In Thailand, however,
adding vegetables is also seen as an effort to reduce costs and increase
profit margins.

Along with pad thai, pad krapow gai is a staple of everyday Thai
cuisine. It’s telling that thai basil chicken featured in one of the
biggest news stories of 2018. One of the school boys trapped and then rescued from the Tham Luang cave system after 2 weeks requested pad krapow gai as his first proper meal.

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