Phad Gai Kra-prao (Thai Stir-fried chicken with basil)

I’ve been cooking and tweaking this dish for probably 8 or 9 years now, and if you follow these directions, this will turn out better than what you can order in 90% of Thai restaurants in the US.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • Jasmine Rice
  • 6-8 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 8 Serrano Chilies, chopped
  • Fresh Galangal – peeled and finely chopped, about 3 tbsp worth
  • 1 large Yellow Onion, sliced.
  • 1 pound Thai Eggplant (About a dozen eggplants), quartered
  • 1 large Red Bell Pepper, sliced
  • 2 medium Zucchinis (or Summer Squash), sliced
  • 1 pound boneless skinless Chicken breast, sliced into small pieces
  • 2 tbsp Canola Oil
  • 6 tbsp Fish Sauce (Three Crabs Brand is my favorite)
  • 1.5 tbsp Sweet Dark Soy Sauce (This is soy, mixed with molasses, and has a thick consistency)
  • 1.5 tbsp White Vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp pure Palm Sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh (or canned) green peppercorns
  • 1 bunch Thai or Holy Basil

Preparation

Start the jasmine rice, so it’s ready when the stir fry finishes.

Chop the galangal, garlic and serranos.  Pound with a mortar and pestle until crushed – this will help release the flavor and soften the galangal.

Combine the fish sauce, sweet soy, vinegar, and palm sugar, and set aside.

Rinse the brine from the canned peppercorns, and set aside.

Cooking

Heat a wok or pan over high heat.  You will keep high heat for the duration of your cooking.  Add the canola oil, when it beings to glisten, add the onion.  Stir for 45 seconds and and galangal, garlic, and chili mixture.  Stir for another 30 seconds, and add the eggplant.  Cook the eggplant for a minute or two, until the sides start to darken on some of them.

Add the chicken, and stir fry for a minute, and then add the zuchini and bell pepper.  Stir fry for 30 more seconds, and then add the sauce mixture (fish, soy, vinegar, sugar).  Continue cooking over high heat for another minute or two, until the chicken is cooked.

Turn off the heat, add the thai basil leaves (the more the merrier) and the peppercorns.  Stir in the basil leaves until wilted, and serve.

Notes on ingredients

Galangal – This is a thai cousin of traditional ginger.  You can find it at any halfway decent asian market, and some high end grocery stores (New Seasons in Portland carries it).  It has a much more intense pepper flavor than normal ginger, and will take this recipe from good to amazing.  If you can’t find fresh galangal, substitute normal ginger.  But please, do your taste buds a favor and get some galangal.  You can freeze what you don’t use.

Thai Eggplant – These are green and round, and don’t look very similar to normal eggplants.  You’ll have to find these at an asian market.  If you can’t get these, get small indian eggplants, and if you can’t get those, you probably live in the South, and you should just give up and go to Cracker Barrel instead.

Fish Sauce – Don’t use the bullshit brand from Whole Foods.  Well, you can, and it’ll turn out fine, but realize that you’re getting ripped off.   Go to an asian market, buy three crabs brand, and refrigerate it.  It should have a light caramel color.  If it starts turning black, it’s oxidized (this happens within a month or so after opening), and it’s going to taste like ass.

Sweet Dark Soy Sauce – You have to go to an asian market to find this.  And even then, it’s hard, because there are only two brands of this stuff among 300 different soy sauces.  It should be thick, and the ingredients should list either sugar or molasses.  If you can’t find this, use normal soy sauce.

Pure Palm Sugar – Comes in a little 12 ounce plastic tub, and is sold at any asian market.  It’s solid sugar, with some syrup on top.  Absolutely delicious.  This will dry out within a few months, so use it quick.  Alternately, use brown sugar.

Green Peppercorns – These are unripened peppercorns.  If you’re really lucky, you’ll find them still on the vine at an asian market.  Otherwise, you can buy them canned, and they’re still delicious, but make sure to rinse with water to remove the brine.  These things are the cat’s meow, and like galangal, take this dish to the next level.  Gai kra-prao without green peppercorns is like pizza without freshly grated parmesan.

Thai Basil – This is less sweet than normal basil, and has a licorice or anise flavor.  You can use normal basil if you can’t find any Thai Basil, but your dish will be much, much better with the real thing.

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