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Thai Chicken with Basil

This has long been one of my favorite Thai dishes.  Discovering those spicy basil leaves with the hint of anise was an epic culinary moment for me.  Whenever I go into a new Thai restaurant I'll order one of the Thai basil dishes.  If it's done well then they are assured of return visits.  Please note that this dish can be done with ground pork as well as chicken.  Serve this with rice and a vegetable dish on the side.  This recipe comes from the Complete America's Test Kitchen Cookbook with only minor variations.

2 cups tightly packed Thai basil leaves (see notes)
3 whole garlic cloves peeled
6 green or red Thai chiles, stemmed (see notes)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed
~¾ cup  shallots peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons peanut oil

Cut the trimmed chicken into 2" pieces and set aside.

Place 1 cup of the basil leaves along with the garlic and chiles into a food processor and pulse until chopped fine, 6 to 10 pulses, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice.  Set aside 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture into a small bowl and stir in one tablespoon of the fish sauce, the oyster sauce, sugar and vinegar and set aside.  Transfer the remaining basil mixture into a wok, or other suitable nonstick skillet.

Put the chicken and the remaining fish sauce in the food processor and pulse until the meat is chopped into ¼" pieces, 6 to 8 pulses.  Transfer the chicken to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Stir in the shallots and oil into the wok with the basil mixture.  Turn on heat to medium-low (this is not a high temperature stir fry operation) and when the mixture start to sizzle (about a minute and a half - increase heat if it doesn't) stir constantly until the garlic and shallots are golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes.

Add the chicken, increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring and breaking up the chicken with a rubber spatula until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes.  Add the reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the chicken is no longer pink.  Stir in the remain 1 cup of basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until the basil is wilted, 30 to 60 seconds.

Serve immediately.



  1. Most Asian markets will carry with fresh or refrigerated Thai basil, and every attempt should be made to use those.  Regular basil could be used but you will lose the tanginess and the hint of anise which are very important to this dish.
  2. If Thai chiles cannot be found you may substitute other chiles of your choice.  I used 3 datil chiles and the heat was moderately spicy.

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