Thai-Style Chicken with Basil
Why this recipe works:
In Thailand, street vendors have
mastered an alternative to traditional Chinese high-heat stir-fry, using low
flames to produce complex and flavorful dishes like chicken and basil—chopped
Capturing the flavors of this classic Thai dish requires
more than just the right ingredients. We would have to learn a whole new way to
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for spiciness can vary, we’ve kept our recipe relatively mild. Sweetness
without sufficient heat can become cloying, so we also cut back the sugar. For
a very mild version of the dish, remove the seeds and ribs from the chiles. If fresh Thai chiles are
unavailable, substitute 2 serranos or 1 medium
jalapeño. In Thailand,
crushed red pepper and sugar are passed at the table, along with extra fish
sauce and white vinegar, so the dish can be adjusted to suit individual taste.
Serve with steamed rice and vegetables, if desired.
2 cups fresh basil leaves ,
3 medium garlic cloves ,
6 green or red
Thai chiles , stemmed (see note)
2 tablespoons fish sauce , plus extra for serving (see note)
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar ,
plus extra for serving (see note)
1 tablespoon sugar , plus extra for serving (see note)
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast , cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium shallots , peeled
and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cup)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
flakes , for serving (see note)
- 1. Process 1 cup basil leaves,
garlic, and chiles in food processor until
finely chopped, 6 to 10 one-second pulses, scraping down bowl with rubber
spatula once during processing. Transfer 1 tablespoon basil mixture to
small bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and
sugar; set aside. Transfer remaining basil mixture to 12-inch
heavy-bottomed nonstick skillet. Do not wash food processor bowl.
- 2. Pulse chicken and 1
tablespoon fish sauce in food processor until meat is chopped into
-approximate 1/4-inch pieces, six to eight 1-second pulses. Transfer to
medium bowl and refrigerate 15 minutes.
- 3. Stir shallots and oil into
basil mixture in skillet. Heat over medium-low heat (mixture should start
to sizzle after about 11/2 minutes; if it doesn’t, adjust heat
accordingly), stirring constantly, until garlic and shallots are golden
brown, 5 to 8 minutes.
- 4. Add chicken, increase heat to
medium, and cook, stirring and breaking up chicken with potato masher or
rubber spatula, until only traces of pink remain, 2 to 4 minutes. Add
reserved basil-fish sauce mixture and continue to cook, stirring
constantly until chicken is no longer pink, about 1 minute. Stir in
remaining cup basil leaves and cook, stirring constantly, until basil is
wilted, 30 to 60 seconds. Serve immediately, passing extra fish sauce,
sugar, red pepper flakes, and vinegar separately.
MINCE YOUR MEAT
Thai stir-fries often feature small
pieces of chopped meat versus the larger strips or chunks in many Chinese
USE LOW HEAT
A moderately hot pan instead of a
blazing hot wok means lean meats such as chicken breast won't easily overcook.
SAUTÉ AROMATICS FIRST
With a low temperature, aromatics
can be added to the pan first, deeply flavoring the oil without risk of burning
SAUTÉ MEAT LAST
At low heat, the meat won't get a
flavor boost from browning. Instead, it absorbs the fully developed flavors of the
SEASON WITH FISH SAUCE
Fish sauce added before and after
cooking is an even more potent flavor enhancer than soy sauce.
Nearly every dish in Thai cuisine features a combination of sweet and spicy
flavors, including our Thai-Style Chicken with Basil. During testing, we noticed
that adding sugar to the recipe significantly toned down the heat of the chiles. It turns out that this phenomenon is the result of
complex interactions in the brain that regulate our perception of flavor,
pitting pain against pleasure. Compounds in chiles
(mainly capsaicin) stimulate nerves (called trigeminals)
surrounding the taste buds to signal discomfort to the brain, in a process
known as chemesthesis. Sugar, on the other hand,
stimulates the taste buds to signal pleasure. These signals are so enjoyable, scientists believe they overshadow the “pain”
caused by chiles.
send signals of discomfort to the brain.
Sweet sugar sends signals of