Monday, February 16, 2015

Monday Food Post - Thai Basil Chicken - serves 2 to 3 people

Years ago before we moved to Virginia (in 1990) we had never tried Thai food.  Gregg moved ahead of us to start a new civilian job after leaving the navy, and lived with his brother and family for a while.  I was waiting for our son to finish his year in school in California.  

In the meantime Gregg started his job and I remember him raving about the food at a restaurant he was taken to by a new colleague.  It was a short walk up the road from his office.  I also remember him saying that it wasn't a fancy restaurant, a hole in the wall place, but it was clean and very popular.  It also had the most amazing food.  This was his introduction to Thai food and he couldn't wait for us to join him so that we could all go there together.  

And that we did.  He was delighted that not only I but also our ten year old son enjoyed it as much as he did.  We visited often and the owners got to know us well.  We became regulars and when we walked in, there would often be a lady seated at one of the dining tables with a big bowl of basil, picking the basil leaves off the stems to be used in their meals.  The smell from the kitchen was incredible.

I am having a case of deja vu.  I may have mentioned this place before on this blog somewhere, but I will plod on.  After a few years and for one reason or another, we had not gone for a while.  It wasn't exactly around the corner from where we lived and life got busier.  We went there more infrequently but after a particularly long 'dry spell', we decided it was time to go get some of our favorite food and headed for our little hole in the wall restaurant.  We were shocked to find the place all boarded up.  It was a sad day for the three of us.  There was no notice on the door to say where they had moved, even though we subsequently tried several more restaurants in the area, thinking they may have relocated, but to no avail.  The food in these restaurants was excellent of course, but it just wasn't the same as our little hole in the wall.

The story was that the building was going to be torn down and that's why those lovely people left, but wouldn't you know it, that building is still there to this day?  I don't know what happened but there are now other restaurants in its place.  I hope they are doing well but none included our favorite Thai restaurant and we never did go back.  For a couple of years if we were in the area and driving by, we might glance in their direction to see if by some miracle they had returned, but they never did.  We still wonder about them occasionally.  They will always be a fond memory, this being the very first place we experienced Thai food.  It wasn't just the food but the people who ran it.  They were extremely kind, genuine friendly and just nice, nice people.

And so it became one of those wonderful family memories of our first few months in Virginia, when the three of us were introduced to a new taste that we had never experienced before.

It is one of the reasons we tried this Thai Basil Chicken tonight. We have been dabbling, trying several Thai recipes lately with great success.  Gregg asked me if I remembered the Thai Basil Chicken we used to get (this from that first Thai Restaurant)?  I told him I would look around for a recipe and I found this one here.  Eureka!  He announced that it is the taste he remembered and gave it a good solid 10!

Thai Basil Chicken - serves 2 to 3 people

Olive Oil (amount wasn't mentioned) but we used 1 to 2 tablespoons

2 large chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
1 onion, sliced thinly
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
3-4 dried chilies, minced/crushed (more if you like it spicy)
2 cups Thai basil leaves, loosely packed


2-1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons ketcap manis (thick Indonesian slightly sweet soy sauce)
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar
2 to 3 teaspoons cornstarch
Pinch of black pepper

Prepare your ingredients.

Combine the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl.  Set aside.

Saute the garlic with the crushed chili in olive oil for a minute or two on medium heat, until it smells fragrant.

Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes.

Add the chicken to the hot pan and stir fry until it is almost done, about 3 to 4 minutes.

Add the bell pepper.  Stir fry for 1 minute.

Pour in the sauce.

Stir and mix well.

Cook for another minute or until the sauce thickens up a bit.

Add in the basil leaves.  Mix well.  Cook for 30 seconds until they started to wilt and become fragrant.

Remove from the heat and serve with hot rice.

What did we think of this dish?  More to the point what did Gregg think. Was it anything like the one that became his favorite all those years ago?   With a big smile he said it was 95 percent of what he had remembered.  Thai Basil Chicken was the meal he ordered every time we went to our hole in the wall.  It's a keeper!

There were two recipes I was thinking of making, the one above and another here,  It also looks an excellent meal which I suggested trying another time, but Gregg doesn't want any other than what we made tonight and that's okay with me.  I will, however, add the sliced green onions as a garnish, as suggested in the second recipe, along with the fresh Thai basil.

If you are used to handling hot peppers and depending on the kind you buy then you should have no problem, but I would highly recommend that you wear kitchen gloves when preparing. The first time I cut one up I had a bit of a reaction - to put it mildly - and found that I am super-sensitive to such things.  Gregg does all the cutting up of hot peppers now and has no problem at all, but he still wears kitchen gloves and immediately washes the cutting board and knife afterwards.  I prepare all the other veggies. 

We ended up using one fresh hot pepper because we couldn't find any dried, and removed all the seeds.  You may already know these seeds contain a good part of the heat.  I thought of leaving half of the seeds in the dish but we both decided this meal was more than hot enough for our taste and we took all the seeds out.  

The only basil we have eaten is Thai basil which we purchase at our local Asian food store.  It is hard for me to describe the difference but I found the following information at two sites, here and here. At the first site I read: "Are Thai and Sweet Basil interchangeable? When developing Thai-style recipes, we've run tests to see if Thai basil can be replaced with the much more available sweet (Italian) basil.  The answer in all cases is a resounding no; these herbs have very different flavors.  Thai basil, which can be identified by its purple stem, has a stronger flavor and aroma - we detected hints of licorice, cinnamon and mint.  If you can't find Thai basil in your supermarket, we recommend substituting mint, not sweet basil."

We served it with steamed white rice, although I am sure you can use brown.

When making the sauce we will double the amount.  It would have been nice to have extra to pour over our rice. 

Added note: Gregg says he could eat this dish at least once a week so we made it again since the first time.  We did make double the sauce and it was a good decision.  This is what it looks like in the pan.

We also added sliced green onions along with the basil for a garnish.  

We didn't have any in the house but Gregg thought a nice Tsingtao beer would have gone well with this dish.