Pierced with chilies and paired with Argentinian wine, this Thai Basil chicken just might be the hottest, easiest date you can find on a school night.
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This is a good dish to:
- use up leftover basil
- need to make something really quick
- do something different with chicken
You don’t need Thai basil
It’s Thai, why wouldn’t you need Thai basil?
Because it’s too hard to find.
In order of importance and difficulty of purchasing, your basil options are:
- Holy basil – The traditional basil used in Thailand for stir-fried dishes but is extremely hard to find in the US.
- Thai basil – Less hard to find and usually available seasonally in the summer. Used for soups in Thailand rather than stir-fries. Tinged with purple streaks so you can tell the different.
- Italian sweet basil – Easy to find year round.
If Italian sweet basil is your only choice, it works. It’s not quite as peppery and lacks some licorice qualities of Thai basil but certainly a doable substitute.
Basil is an extremely common fresh herb found in many grocery stores. Why not do something different with basil besides a tomato sauce, pesto, or caprese salad?
How is Thai Basil chicken seasoned?
Most recipes for Thai Basil chicken will have some combination of the following seasonings:
Instead, this recipe takes inspiration from the Thai Basil chicken served at Soi 71, a restaurant in Walla Walla, WA. It wasn’t just spicy, it was Thai SPICY. It seemed to have a combination of fresh and dried chiles, in addition to a curry paste ground by Grandma Dang, the proprietor and head cook of the restaurant.
As a result, this recipe uses fermented shrimp paste, an ingredient found in most curry pastes. It provides a hefty bump of umami, salt, and savoriness to the dish. If you don’t have it, you can add sub with fish sauce.
The sweet soy sauce is thick and dark like molasses and makes everything mahogany brown. If you don’t have it, additional soy sauce can be used. The chicken will just be lighter in color.
Oyster sauce is also used in this recipe for a combination of soy sauce and seafood flavors. It really makes anything taste good.
For spice, 1 serrano chile or 3 Thai bird chiles per pound of chicken adds enough heat to feel warm but not get burned.
You can use ground chicken
Sometimes you want to cook chicken, but you don’t want to touch it. (Because you don’t want to handle raw chicken, risk cross-contamination, and soiling another cutting board.)
In that case, ground chicken works fine. Ground turkey is a fine substitute too. The mouthfeel is just less toothsome with ground meats.
If you do feel up to it, hand chopping chicken thighs into a 1/4 – 1/2″ dice would be ideal. Then you get a little more to chew on, and the appearance is just a tad bit more appealing.
No other vegetables
Thai basil chicken does not usually have other vegetables in it. It’s just basil and chicken.
You could add bell peppers, carrots, and onion if you wanted, but the true version does not have those additions. Cherry tomatoes would also marry nicely with the fresh basil.
Chicken and the Egg
This dish is often served with a fried egg. This would also be a good opportunity to try frying a duck egg too, if you come across them at the farmer’s market.
Step 1: Cook garlic, chile, and shrimp paste
Give these a whirl in a hot pan with some oil for 30 seconds to a minute.
Warning: cooking shrimp paste and chilies in hot oil emit very strong fumes. Turn the fan on high and stand back!
Step 2: Add chicken and seasonings
Add the chicken, oyster sauce, and sweet soy sauce and cook for 3-5 minutes until the chicken is just about fully cooked with no raw pink spots left.
Step 3: Add basil leaves and black pepper
Add the basil leaves and black pepper at the tail tend of cooking just to heat through. We don’t want to cook the basil leaves too much, to retain their freshness.
Add black pepper to taste if you please, especially if using Italian sweet basil, this will heighten the peppery notes found in Thai basil.
Serve with rice or just cauliflower rice if you’re on a low carb diet.
Why not serve directly from the skillet too. Top with fried eggs, and do that “breakfast for dinner” trend.
Wine Pairing: 2017 Amalaya Torrontes Riesling Salta ($12)
Torrontes is an Argentine white grape varietal known for its floral, sweet aromas but salty, dry taste. You might call it two-faced.
According to Wine Folly, the best Torrontes wines come from the high elevation Salta Vineyards. At 5,900 feet above sea level, the grapes get more sun exposure, particularly to UV-B radiation and you get fresher tasting wine.
Since labor costs are much lower in Argentina, you also get a bargain priced wine.
The Napa winemaker that now resides in Argentina
This Amalaya is a label from the Colome winery, started by Donald Hess. The same Hess who makes the Hess Collection wines in Napa. The same Hess winery in Napa where you can taste wine and also view millions of dollars worth of artwork.
He since moved to Argentina and came out of retirement in 2002 to start making wine again. There you have a world class winemaking techniques applied to high elevation, organically cultivated grapes for just $12.
Torrontes with a touch of Riesling
This Torrontes has 15% Riesling that adds some much needed acidity to sun drenched wine grapes. It also lends a touch of minerality.
Why this works with Thai Basil Chicken
It works because it doesn’t compete with spice and instead soothes it. Almost like lime juice, it provides a bright and refreshing contrast to the strong shrimp paste and oyster sauce seasonings.
However, the wine also has that fully ripe, sun-drenched ripeness to it that marries with the herbaceous, fresh Thai basil in the chicken.
Both the Thai basil chicken and Torrontes wine are neither extravagant but rather humble in their means. You could easily make a date with these two on any night of the week without breaking your wallet or taking too much time.
Wine Pairing Weekend
For more info on pairing Argentine wine and food, you must check out these thoughtful posts from the Wine Pairing Weekend crew:
HTML for WinePW Jan 2019 Argentina
- Deanna from Asian Test Kitchen presents”Spicy Thai Basil Chicken + Torrontes”
- Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm shares “A Taste of Argentina”
- Jill from L’Occasion presents “All The Range: Not Just Malbec From Argentina“
- Camilla from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares “Carbonada Criolla + Zuccardi Q 2013 Tempranillo”
- David at Cooking Chat presents “Roasted Chimichurri Steak and Wines from Argentina”
- Cindy at Grape Experiences shares “Wine and Dine with Bodega Trivento Winemaker German di Cesare”
- Sarah at Curious Cuisiniere presents “Ñoqui con Tuco (Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce) paired with Argentinian Wine”
- Michelle at Rockin Red Blog shares “Exploring Argentinian Wine with the Zuccardi Family”
- Jane at Always Ravenous presents “How to Pair Vegetarian Food with Argentine Wines”
- Jennifer at Vino Travels shares “Argentina Wines with Familia Zuccardi”
- Kat at Bacchus Travel and Tours presents “Exploring Argentina: Warm Wines for Cold Nights”
- Nicole at Somms Table shares “Catena Lunlunta Malbec and Steak with Chimichurri for Two“
- Nancy at Pull That Cork presents “Domaine Bousquet Reserve Wines & Savory Tray Bake“
- Martin at Enofylz Wine Blog shares “A Cross Cultural Food And Wine Pairing with Amado Sur”
- Rupal at Syrah Queen presents “Wines of Zuccardi – Malbec and Beyond”
- Steve at Steven’s Wine and Food Blog shares “Argentine Torrontes and Romesco Sauce”
- Gwen at Wine Predator shares “Go Organic in 2019 With Argentina’s Domaine Bousquet and Santa Julia“
- Jeff at Food Wine Click! presents “Party Guaranteed: Pulled Pork and Argentine Wine”
More Food & Wine posts:
Easy Thai Basil Chicken with or without Thai Basil
- 1 lb ground chicken or chicken chopped into 1/4-1/2" dice or ground turkey
- 1 tsp coconut oil or other healthful oil
- 1 tsp shrimp paste
- 1 tsp garlic minced
- 3 ea Thai bird chiles, minced with seeds or 1 serrano chile minced with seeds
- 1 Tb oyster sauce
- 1 Tb sweet soy sauce sub with regular soy sauce if unavailable
- 1 cup basil leaves Thai basil or Italian basil
- ground black pepper to taste
- Heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, chiles, and shrimp paste. Cook for 30 seconds to one minute, stirring so they don't burn.
- Add chicken, oyster sauce, and sweet soy sauce. Cook and stir for 3-4 minutes until chicken is almost completely cooked through.
- Add basil leaves and black pepper. Stir until leaves are wilted about 1-2 minutes. Chicken should have no pink spots left and be completely cooked through.
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