Thailand’s best HOLY THAI BASIL CHICKEN [Pad Kra Pao ผัดกะเพรา]

I travelled to the outskirts of Northern Thailand to learn the secret of this legendary recipe.

Pad Krapow a.k.a. Holy Thai Basil Chicken / Pork is a local favourite in Thailand. It’s served everywhere in Thailand and can be eaten anytime of the day, as a meal or a snack. I got this original recipe from the famous Krapao for Hot Spicy Lovers restaurant in Chiang Mai.

The real recipe for Holy Thai Basil Chicken Stir-Fry (Pad Krapao) uses Holy Basil rather than Thai Basil. (These two are same same but different.) Check out this video to learn the difference between Holy Basil and Thai Basil as well as how to cook the dish.

Often served with a crisp-edged fried egg (Khai Dao) on soft jasmine rice, this dish has every flavour and texture profile you can think of. It’s fast to make and a true pleasure to cook.

1. Ingredients

Holy Basil (Krapao) กะเพรา
Check out this video to learn the difference between Holy Basil and Thai Basil as well as how to cook the dish.
Serves 2
Quantities are an approximation. Use your own feeling and judgement.
  • 300g pork or chicken
    It’s best to go to your butcher and ask for a nice cut without bone or too much fat.
  • 300g freshly cooked jasmine rice
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 4 bird’s eye chillies (Ideally a mix of red and green)
    Their spiciness will greatly diminish through the cooking process.
  • 3 dried chillies
  • A generous bunch of Holy Basil (Krapao)
    Regular Thai Basil may be used as a substitute although this would technically not be a Pad “Krapao”.
    Learn more about the difference bewteen Holy Basil and Thai Basil.
  • 100-200g of Chinese long beans and/or baby corn (optional)
    It is common in Thailand do see this dish cooked with or without any vegetables.
  • 1 tbsp. Fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. Oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp. Ketjap Manis a.k.a. Black soy sauce
    This can be found in most Asian grocery stores. It adds a wonderful sweet dark glaze to this firery dish.
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp. Canola, sunflower or peanut oil
    This will be used for frying at high temperatures so make sure to choose a neutral oil with high smoking point.
  • A small bowl of water for de-glazing

2. Preparation

Small Bird's Eye Chillies to be used in Pad Krapao
Bird’s eye chillies (Phrik) พริกขี้หนู

Prepare all your ingredients in advance. It will only actually take a few minutes to fry the dish so you want all your attention on the hot wok and not on your cutting board.

  1. Cook your jasmine rice.
    Golden rule: The rice should always be the first thing to prepare before starting to cook the rest of the dish. The cooked rice can always wait and doesn’t need to be piping hot when served.
  2. Mince the meat using a heavy cleaver or large knife.
    Thai cooks will do this on thick and heavy rounded tamarind cutting boards. Use the most solid board you have.
  3. Pound garlic and chillies in a stone mortar and pestle.
    For milder results you can scrape the seeds out of the chilli pods.
    1. Remove chilli stems and garlic peels.
    2. Add them whole to the mortar
    3. Pound them into a rough mass to release oils. This should not become a paste. Small shreds and pieces should still be visible.
      If you do not have a mortar and pestle you can always finely chop them using a kitchen knife.
  4. Cut vegetables into 2-3cm pieces.
  5. Pluck holy basil leaves off their branches.

Pro Tip: Arrange all the ingredients in cooking order next to your wok/pan:

1. Oil
2. Eggs
3. Aromatics (Chilli + Garlic)
4. Meat
5. Vegetables
6. Sauces & Sugar
7. Holy Basil
8. Water (Use a small amount anytime things get too dry to avoid burning)

Ingredients for cooking Thai Basil Chicken Pad Krapao

4. Wok n’ Roll

This final step will go very fast. For ideal results use a cast iron wok. A cast iron pan will do nicely as well. If you don’t have either, use a non-stick pan. In any case, you’re about to have a delicious Holy Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapao).

Important Note: Portions are usually stir-fried individually in order not to crowd the wok with too much food. You want to be frying your ingredients, not boiling/steaming them.

2nd Important Note: Open the windows and set your exhaust to maximum. There’s going to be a lot spicy chilli smoke drifting through your kitchen. Coughing is part of the process. No pain, no gain!

Thai Fried Egg (Khai Dao)
Thai Fried Egg Khai Dao to be served with Pad Krapao
  1. Heat your wok on high flame until it begins to smoke. The Cantonese call this wok hei.
  2. Add about 2 tbsp. oil into the wok and wait until in begins to smoke slightly.
  3. Crack a single egg and add it into the oil. This will cause bubbles to swell up.
  4. Wait until outer edges begin to turn golden brown.
  5. Ladle hot oil onto the top of the egg yolk, thus slightly cooking it.
  6. Carefully remove egg from wok and set aside.
  7. Repeat with other egg.
  8. Remove any remaining pieces of egg to prevent from burning
Pad Krapao
Wok Stir Frying Pad Krapao Thai Basil Chicken

As with any stir-fry, things will go fast. High heat is required for optimal results. Avoid any distractions and keep stirring non-stop. A moment of hesitation can turn your delicious Pad Krapao into a burnt and bitter Pad Krapao. That being said, here comes the fun part:

  1. Get oil piping hot until it begins to smoke.
  2. Add pounded chillies and garlic.
  3. Stir vigorously until garlic turns golden.
  4. Add meat.
  5. Stir meat onto all sides of the hot wok.
  6. Add vegetables
  7. Add a tiny bit of water if you feel things are getting to hot or dry.
  8. Add sauces: Fish sauce, oyster sauces, light soy, ketjap manis and sugar.
  9. Stir
  10. Add holy basil.
  11. Stir quickly and serve alongside rice and fried egg.

One has to admire the complete variety of textures and flavours that Pad Krapao (Thai Holy Basil Chicken) has to offer: The chewy umami of the meat, glazed with the sweet salty sauces, the crunchy vegetables, the fiery strength of the garlic and basil, the delicate fragrance of the holy basil, the runny egg yolk, the crispy egg white, all this absorbed by the light fluffy jasmine rice.

No wonder it’s a local favourite. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Check out the detailed video for further reference:

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