Pad Krapow Gai (ผัดกระเพราไก่) literally translates to Fried Holy Basil Chicken and is one of my favorite dishes of all time. While there are countless reasons to love this dish, perhaps the most compelling is its incredibly good effort to taste ratio. Ten minutes is all it takes to put this dish together, and for your pittance of effort, you’ll be rewarded with a soul-satisfyingly delicious meal that’s cheap to boot.
Spicy, with a mouthwatering balance of savory and sweet, this quick stir fry will fill your kitchen with the hunger-inducing aromas of caramelized garlic and basil. Although the basil chicken is abundantly tasty on its own, the fried egg on top is what elevates this dish to an entirely new plane. The egg is literally deep fried, giving it a crisp golden brown crust on the outside, while the golden yolk remains runny, adding just a touch of velvety richness to this humble weeknight meal. Piled high on a plate of jasmine rice, and you have yourself perfection on a plate.
As the name implies the key component of Pad Krapow Gai is holy basil. Although it’s a member of the Ocimum genus, it’s of a different species than Italian Sweet Basil or Thai Basil. Unlike these more common types of basil which tend to smell of licorice and anise, holy basil has a distinct aroma closer to camphor, cloves and menthol. Unfortunately, holy basil can be a bit difficult to find, unless you happen to live near a Thai grocery store. If you can’t find it, you can certainly make a tasty dish using other types of basil, but it just won’t taste quite the same.
The other point I should mention is that Thai dark soy sauce is quite different from Japanese or Korean dark soy sauce. It’s thick, syrupy and almost black in color with molasses and caramel notes (though it’s not sweet). If you can find it, I’d highly recommend it, as it not only contributes to the rich color of the dish, it also adds a marvelous caramely flavor that’s the perfect compliment to the herbaceous basil.
Basil chicken is not a complicated dish to prepare, but it does go very quickly, which can make timing the egg and the chicken so that they finish simultaneously a bit tricky. That’s why it’s super important to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go into the pan when needed. If you’re worried about juggling two pans at the same time, you can make the egg before the chicken and set it on a plate while you prepare the chicken.
- Remove the skin and any fat from the thighs and chop into small pieces and set aside. Cut the thigh meat into 1/3-inch pieces.
- Measure out the oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, and sugar into a small bowl so that it's ready to add to the stir fry.
- Prepare two frying pans (one for the egg and one for the chicken). Put the chicken skin and fat into one pan and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil into the other.
- For the pan with the chicken skin, turn the heat onto medium-high and render out the fat, stirring from time to time to prevent burning.
- When the chicken skin is browned and starting to crisp, turn up the heat to high and then add the garlic and chili peppers and saute until fragrant (about 30 seconds).
- Meanwhile, turn the second burner onto high heat and heat until the oil is shimmering and hot.
- Add the chicken to the first pan with the garlic and chili peppers and stir fry until the chicken is cooked through.
- Break an egg into the second pan and fry, spooning some oil onto the egg to help cook the top surface from time to time.
- Add the sauce mix to the chicken and continue stir-frying until the sauce coats the chicken evenly.
- Turn off the heat and toss the holy basil together with the chicken and plate immediately. Top your Pad Krapow Gai with the the fried egg.
Note: Two Thai chiles will make this basil chicken fairly spicy, if you don't like a lot of heat, either cut back on the chiles, or smash (but don't chop) them so you can pick them out after cooking. If you want to make this crazy spicy, just add more chilies.