Pixelated Crumb

Thai Basil Chicken


My boss got me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated last Christmas and I love it. The first recipe that we made from the magazine was this Thai basil chicken dish and we’ve made it many, many times since then. It’s juicy, it’s spicy, it’s garlicy, and it has Thai basil.


I first fell in love with thai basil when I was maybe 13 or so when I got some panang curry at a Thai restaurant in Bethesda. I had never heard of it before and I just fell in love with its distinctive flavor. It’s known for having a clove and anise-like flavor, but if you’re not an anise fan don’t let that deter you. I’ve never been an anise fan myself and, not to beat the horse any more or anything, but I love Thai basil.


When Joseph and I planted our herbs at the beginning of the summer, we got Thai basil with this dish in mind. The problem is that you do need a fair amount of Thai basil for this dish so we waited a long time to make the dish so we could grow enough. With all our traveling this summer, we may have waited too long. By the time we made this dish, our basil wasn’t quite as lush as it once was. I’m hoping that with some tender loving care, we can get enough to make this dish at least one more time before the frost kills what’s left of our Thai basil. Because I love this dish.


Thai Chicken Basil

Adapted from Cooks Illustrated

This is a spicy dish. You can either tone down the chilis, or serve with extra sugar (sugar tones down the heat). You can also serve with additional fish sauce and vinegar, along with the chili flakes so people can adjust the dish to their taste. We serve this over brown or white rice.

Serves 4

2 cups Thai basil*, tightly packed
3 garlic cloves
6 Thai chilis, stemmed
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 medium shallots, peeled and thinly sliced (about 3/4 cups)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Red pepper flakes, for serving

Process 1 cup of the basil leaves, garlic, and Thai chilis in food processor until finely chopped (6-10 one-second pulses). Transfer 1 tablespoon of this mixture to a small bowl and add 1 tablespoon fish sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Mix together and set aside. Transfer the remaining basil mixture to a 12-inch, heavy skillet. Don’t bother washing the food processor – you’re about to use it again!

Pulse the chicken and 1 tablespoon fish sauce in the food processor until the meat is chopped into about 1/4 inch pieces (6-8 one-second pulses). Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Stir shallots and oil into the basil mixture in the skillet. Cook over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the garlic and shallots are golden brown (about 5-8 minutes).

Add the chicken and increase the heat to medium. Cook, stirring and breaking up the chicken with a rubber spatula until there’s only a little pink left (2-4 minutes). Add the basil-fish sauce mixture, stir constantly, and cook until there’s no pink left on the chicken (about a minute). Stir in the remaining cup of basil until wilted (30-60 seconds). Serve immediately.

*You can use regular sweet basil if you can’t find Thai basil