Inspired by traditional pad kra pao, this Thai basil ground chicken is a flavor-packed protein option you can throw together in about twenty minutes. Top it with a fried egg and serve over jasmine rice, or cauliflower rice for a lower carb option, and you’ll have a delicious yet lower calorie meal in no time.
This recipe was inspired by everyone’s favorite food scientist, J. Kenji López Alt, in a recent video where he made pad ka-prao moo (or ground pork with holy basil). His stir-fry was loosely based on a pad ka-prao recipe from Leela at She Simmers. My version is an adaptation of both, aiming to reduce the calorie count and use more readily available ingredients here in the US (Texas, specifically).
I’ll run you through all the ingredients below and try to point you in the right direction for authentic Thai selections where possible. If you’d like to get cooking right away, you’ll find a printable recipe card at the bottom of the post.
The Sauce for Thai Basil Ground Chicken
Most authentic pad kra pao recipes tend to call for four sauce ingredients: light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. If you’re anything like me and know very little about the difference between light and dark soy sauce, read up if you’re interested.
For my recipe, however, I used low sodium soy sauce and a substitute of Thai sweet chili sauce to reduce the total sodium content. If you want to go authentic, most recipes use two tablespoons of dark soy sauce and one tablespoon of light soy sauce.
In my limited research, it looks like Red Boat 40°N (available on Amazon) is the most popular fish sauce out there. And according to Kenji, Lee Kum Kee actually invented oyster sauce. If you don’t have either of these ingredients, I would order them and make a similar recipe like my honey sriracha ground chicken and broccoli or firecracker ground chicken in the meantime
The Garlic Chile Paste and Basil
You’ll need garlic cloves, a shallot (or a red onion like Kenji), and some form of chile pepper. Traditional Thai basil chicken recipes will call for Thai bird’s eye chile peppers, which are about ten to twenty times hotter than a jalapeño and five to ten times hotter than a serrano. Leela’s pad ka prao recipe calls for seven bird’s eye chiles, so I substituted an equal weight of one serrano with seeds in. If you like heat and can find bird’s eye chiles near you, go for it!
Instead of using a mortar and pestle or dirtying up a food processor, I used a microplane to finely grate the garlic cloves. You could also crush them with your knife (how-to tips in my carrot fries recipe). Then I finely minced the shallot and serrano. I’ve seen some recipes even call for thicker slices of the vegetables. I think that might be great for added texture in the finished dish, but grinding and crushing unlocks flavors in a quick cooking dish.
Holy Basil vs Thai Basil vs Genovese Basil
Authentic Thai basil chicken is made with the peppery-flavored holy basil, which can be difficult to find here in the states. Pad kra pao literally translates to “holy basil stir-fry” or something along those lines. According to Rachel Cooks Thai, other forms like dried holy basil and holy basil paste don’t live up to fresh holy basil. But unless you wanted to grow your own holy basil like The Woks of Life did for their pad kra pao, you’ll have to improvise.
You may be able to find Thai basil in some stores, which is your next best bet. If you can only find Genovese or sweet basil (like me) that’ll still work, you just won’t be making an authentic dish.
Cooking the Thai Basil Chicken
You want to lightly fry the veggie paste without developing too much browning or burning the garlic. A wok makes easier work of frying with limited oil. But if you’re using a skillet or larger sauté pan, I like to slightly tilt the pan to one side to create a pool of the heated oil. This allows you to fry small amounts of food like this without burning.
If you feel like things are browning too quickly, remove the pan from the heat, give everything a stir, and don’t rush it.
Once you add the chicken and start breaking it apart, it will cool the pan down and its juices will help deglaze the pan. Unlike most of my ground chicken or beef recipes, this Thai basil ground chicken doesn’t get my typical Maillard reaction spiel. You’re not after lots of browning on the meat.
The sauce goes in once the chicken is fully cooked. Be sure to work everything together and continue cooking until the sauce is absorbed. If your ground chicken looks a little dry, you can add a little chicken broth or stock.
The basil goes in at the very end and won’t take more than a few stirs in the pan to wilt. And that’s a wrap. Your Thai basil ground chicken is ready to serve!
I opted for jasmine rice and a puffy fried egg. To make one, fry an egg or two or three in a little oil and spoon hot oil over the top of the egg whites. This will create the crispy bottom and edges while keeping the yolk nice and runny.
If you wanted to reduce the carb count, you could obviously serve your Thai basil ground chicken with cauliflower rice. You may even want to spruce it up with something like this creamy coconut cauliflower rice.
For a traditional Thai sauce you could make nam pla prik, which is a combination of lime juice, fish sauce, Thai chiles, garlic, sugar, and cilantro. Since I already had sweet chili sauce on hand, that’s what I went with.
However you end up serving your Thai basil chicken, I hope you enjoy! Let me know how yours turned out in a comment or recipe review. And if you have any questions about the recipe, you can leave them in the comments as well.
- 1 pound Ground Chicken, 97% lean
- 1 tablespoon Olive Oil
- 6 cloves Garlic, crushed or grated with a microplane
- 1 Shallot, minced
- 1 Serrano Pepper, minced
- 2 tablespoons Low Sodium Soy Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Fish Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Oyster Sauce
- 1 tablespoon Sweet Chili Sauce
- 1 handful Basil Leaves (ideally holy basil)
- Finely mince the shallot, Serrano, and grate the garlic into a small bowl. You want a very fine, almost paste-like consistency. If you have a mortar and pestle, use that.
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet or wok before adding the paste. If you're using a skillet, tilt to one side to create a small pool of oil before adding the paste. Fry for 2-3 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant and starting to brown.
- Add the ground chicken to the skillet, breaking it apart with a spatula and mixing with the garlic mixture.
- While the chicken cooks, mix the sauces together in a small bowl. Add to the fully cooked chicken and stir everything together. Cook for 30-60 seconds until the sauce is evenly incorporated.
- Add the basil leaves and stir everything together a few times until the basil begins to wilt. Remove from the heat and serve with rice and an optional fried egg.
Each serving has 2 WW SmartPoints (blue).
Nutrition info is for ground chicken stir-fry only (no rice or egg).
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: about 4 oz
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 190Total Fat: 7gCarbohydrates: 8gProtein: 27g