Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

Thai chicken & basil

I promise the only reason I went to the red light district when I was in Amsterdam was to head to Thai Snackbar Bird to check out the food. There are plenty of good reviews on TripAdvisor, in fact some of them are outright raves on the authenticity of the food. I’d downloaded a travel app from The Telegraph as well which listed it as one of the places to eat in Amsterdam. It even goes so far as to say that the snack bar is much better than the restaurant across the road run by the same Thai people. It really is only a no frills takeaway with a few tables and chairs and a bar table by the window but I don’t really care about atmosphere if the food is this good. A friendly lady from Bristol (of all places!) sat next to me at the bar table and we got to talking and decided to share our orders of stir-fry squid with holy basil (favourite of The Telegraph author) and pad thai with prawns to get the most out of our lunch. As it was with my app, it was her Lonely Planet Pocket Amsterdam travel guide that directed her there. Boy were our dishes delicious. And the portions were huge! Each was enough for two and we actually struggled to finish. I was too shy to snap photos of our food in front of her and we were also too busy gobbling down our food so apologies there is no pictorial evidence.

My recipe is an adaptation of Ken Hom’s after reading through the comments on the page. It’s such a simple dish to whip up and barely takes any time, the only proviso being able to find Thai holy basil from the shops. Thai holy basil has a subtle sweet aniseed flavour different to the usual basil which is stronger and punchier. I’d even say save this recipe until the time you can get holy basil as the flavour of the dish is so altered without it. Fresh squid is not easy to find here in Nottingham but luckily this recipe is pretty versatile you can substitute it with any sort of meat you like be it chicken, pork, or beef. Apparently it can also be cooked with minced pork and served with a fried egg on top. Anything goes! This is pretty much a one dish meal when cooked with the peppers and goes great with plain boiled rice to soak up the savoury sauce.

Thai Chicken & Holy Basil Stir-Fry (Pad Kra Pao Gai)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
450g boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch chunks
1 red pepper, cut into 1cm slices
3 tbsp sliced shallots
3 red chillies, deseeded and finely shredded (leave the seeds in 1 or 2 of the chillies for a spicier kick)
3 tbsp chopped garlic
4 tbsp fish sauce
3 tsp dark soy sauce
4 tsp sugar (granulated or caster is fine)
Water to thin the sauce down
Leaves from 2 large bunches of Thai holy basil
A handful of toasted cashew nuts

  1. Heat a wok on a high heat until it’s smoking and add in the oil. Once the oil is smoking as well add in the shallots and chilies and stir for 2 minutes until softened, then add in the garlic and stir for another minute.
  2. Add in the chicken pieces and stir until browned, then add in the red peppers and stir for a minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium and add in the fish sauce, dark soy sauce and sugar. Add in 50 to 100ml of water to thin the sauce and leave to simmer for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. The amount of water will vary according to how much sauce you’d prefer without losing the flavour. If you add too much just boil it a little longer to reduce it down again.
  4. Switch off the heat and stir in all the basil leaves. It might seem plenty but they do wilt down a lot.
  5. Serve with cashew nuts sprinkled on top. (I forgot to add them in the pic above!)
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