Recipe: "Spicy Basil Chicken" by Kasma Loha-unchit
Rating: A keeper! I love this dish.
Status: Made a few times.
I recently completed Kasma Loha-unchit's Beginning-Intermediate Weeklong Thai cooking course. It was amazing and so much fun! Kasma taught us tons of information about Thai cooking and by the end of the week I was feeling comfortable with many common Thai ingredients that were once unknown to me.
One of my favorite dishes was Spicy Basil Chicken. I rarely eat chicken because I often find it bland--I was surprised at how flavorful Kasma's chicken dish is. I couldn't stop eating it. The holy basil (also called "hot basil" in Thai markets) is my favorite part. I had never eaten it before this class, and I was surprised that it has a very different flavor from regular basil. It is spicy and not sweet (Kasma has more information here) and it combines really well with the highly flavored chicken. There are both green and purple versions of holy basil. A picture of green holy basil is above; its leaves are slightly hairy and it has serrated edges. Do try to seek it out if you can find it--you're more likely to find it at Southeast Asian grocery stores or Southeast Asian farmer's market booths (if you are unable to find any, it is possible to substitute Thai basil). It should keep for a week if you wrap it in a paper towel to absorb moisture and store it in a closed container or closed plastic bag. Do not wash the leaves; Kasma says that plants with hairy leaves from tropical places tend to wilt if they get wet.
Best of all, this dish is really quick to make--so quick that Kasma and her husband Michael say that they often make it for their weeknight dinner. Plucking the holy basil leaves off the stems seems to be the task that takes me the longest, so be sure to budget time for this or enlist others to help. Kasma's jasmine rice recipe only takes 25 minutes to cook; if you prepare the ingredients ahead of time and start cooking the spicy basil chicken dish when you begin steaming the rice, both dishes should be ready at about the same time.
The recipe is available on Kasma Loha-unchit's site.
- The dish should have lots of basil, so you should use all the leaves from an entire bunch of holy basil in this dish.
- It uses black soy sauce from Thailand; Chinese black soy sauce is different because it tends to be sweeter. I used one of the brands which Kasma recommends, which is pictured to the left.
- By "shallots", she means Asian shallots, which are small shallots the size of a pearl onion. If you can't find Asian shallots, then you can substitute 1 regular European shallot.
- Kaffir lime leaves are composed of two connected leaves (some people call this a "double leaf"). Kasma counts each lobe as 1 leaf--so when she says "2 small kaffir lime leaves", she means either one double leaf or two lobes. Kaffir lime leaves differ in size, even from the same plant, so the quantity should be estimated (e.g. one large lobe can be substituted for the two small lobes).
- I prefer to use ground chicken (1 lbs, preferably made from ground chicken thighs) in this recipe because it melds with the flavors well; otherwise use finely minced chicken, since smaller pieces have greater the surface area to coat with the flavors of the aromatic herbs and sauces. The grocery store accidentally sold me ground turkey once, so I've made the variation of this dish using it, but I don't like it because I don't like the taste of turkey and in my opinion, it doesn't seem to pair as well with the holy basil.
- Healthy Boy fish sauce is less salty than other brands, so you may need to add some extra fish sauce if you use this brand. Season to taste.
- I use just 1 Thai bird chili for William since he is sensitive to spice, and he still found it spicy. I made this for my family with 5 Thai bird chilies--next time they'd like a few more. I have also tried using a Serrano chili; I prefer the Thai bird chili because it has a stronger and more persistent heat. The Serrano chili was too mild.
This is best served with rice, preferably Thai jasmine rice. The recipe serves 4 with rice and can be topped with a fried egg for a one dish meal, or it can be part of a multi-dish meal for many people. William likes to wrap bits of basil chicken and rice with little gem lettuce leaves though I prefer eating the spicy basil chicken with just jasmine rice since I think the flavor was muted by the lettuce.
This recipe is also great topped with fried basil (as shown in the top picture, which one that I took at Kasma's class); the fried basil was a last minute addition, since we had some leftover from another dish.
To make fried holy basil: Make sure that your basil is very dry (do not wash); any water on the leaves will cause the hot oil to violently splatter. Pick leaves and flowers off them stems until you have about 2 cupfuls. Discard stems; both the leaves and flowers can be eaten. Heat several inches of oil to about 350 F in a large pot with several inches of space for the oil to bubble up and increase in volume. Place a few handfuls of the basil leaves and flowers into the oil (since they are light you can drop them into the oil from several inches above) and quickly remove your hands (and yourself) away from the oil; the moisture inside the basil leaves will cause the oil to immediately bubble up and possibly splatter. As soon as the bubbling subsides (it should take only a few seconds) remove the leaves from the oil with a slotted spoon or spider (the quicker that you remove the basil, the more vibrant green it will be). Fried holy basil has a tendency to be oily, so I like to spread it out on a plate lined with paper towels, rather than a drying rack so that the towels absorb some of the oil. The basil will be very crispy, dark green (tending towards a dull green or brown if it is cooked too long or at too high a temperature), and have a faint basil taste.
Recipe: "Wok-Tossed Salmon with Chillies and Thai Basil" from "Dancing Shrimp" by Kasma Loch-Unchit
Status: Made twice.
The salmon version of this dish, called "Wok-Tossed Salmon with Chillies and Thai Basil", is also wonderful.
The dish cooks very quickly--so quickly that I suggest preparing all the ingredients beforehand and then waiting until your rice is only 5 to 8 minutes from being done to begin cooking this recipe. The salmon should be cooked only briefly so that the insides are still slightly translucent. Take the dish off the heat as soon as the outside of the fish pieces has turned opaque; the residual heat will continue to cook the fish.
For this dish, even if you are using Healthy Boy fish sauce (which is less salty than other fish sauces), start with 2 Tbsp of fish sauce and only add more if necessary. The salmon doesn't absorb the fish sauce as much, so this dish needs a smaller amount of fish sauce than the basil chicken dish.