The Hmong farmers have returned to our weekly farmer’s
market with a wealth of Asian produce. Last Saturday, they had gorgeous Thai basil and I
swooped down upon a couple of bunches. Basil discolors quickly, its shelf life
under refrigeration is just a few days. I wasn’t about to let it go to waste
and thought of Thai chicken and basil, a simple stir-fry.
The thing is, I didn’t want to make the dish with all
chicken so I worked in some tofu. I substituted 10 ounces (300 grams) of
extra-firm tofu for 8 ounces (240 grams) of the chicken in the original recipe,
which called for a pound. That’s one of several strategy for using tofu for
The keys to this dish include (1) washing and drying the
basil leaves (keep them whole) and (2) seasoning and panfrying the tofu.
seal in the moisture in the chicken, I lightly coat it with cornstarch and soy
sauce; it’s typically added to the wok as is, only to be embellished by flavors
during the cooking process. Dark soy sauce adds color but the black soy sauce is semi sweet. With so little used, I suppose you could use kecap manis, if you want.
You can make this dish with mint or Italian basil but for the real deal, Thai basil’s warm spice note is magnificent. If flowers are present on the sprigs, use them!
The original recipe came from Kasma Loha-Unchit’s It Rains Fishes, a lovingly produced
Thai cookbook from 1995 that’s sadly out of print. I bought a signed copy from Kasma but saw that you can get it for a relatively good deal (much much less than what I paid). If you collect Asian cookbooks or are interested in Thai cooking, get a copy of the book.
Spicy Basil Chicken
Serves: 4 with
- 10 ounces (300 g) extra-firm tofu
- 8 ounces (240 g) boneless, skinless chicken
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons dark or black soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 or 4 tablespoons fragrant
peanut oil or canola oil
- 4 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 or 3 Fresno or jalapeno chiles, quartered
lengthwise and cut on the diagonal into slivers
- 2 tender kaffir (makrud) lime leaves, very
finely slivered (optional)
- 1 cup lightly packed Thai basil, holy basil, mint
or a combination
- White pepper
- Cut the tofu into small, bite-size pieces. Put on
a double layer of paper towel and sprinkle a bit of salt over the pieces. Set
aside to season the tofu and to let it drain, about 15 minutes.
- Cut the chicken in bites-size pieces a little
smaller than the tofu. Transfer to a bowl and coat with the cornstarch and 1
teaspoon of soy sauce.
- In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 1
teaspoon of soy sauce with the sugar, water, and fish sauce. Set aside near the
- Blot excess moisture from the tofu. Heat a large
wok or nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in 1 to 2 tablespoons of
oil. Add the tofu and panfry for 3 to 4 minutes, flipping midway, until golden
brown and slightly crisp on two sides. Transfer to a plate.
- Reheat the wok or skillet over high heat. When
nearly smoking hot, swirl in 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic, let it
sizzle for a few seconds, then add the shallot. Stir until aromatic, 15 to 20
seconds, then add the chicken, spreading it out into 1 layer. Let the chicken sear
for about a minute, then use a spatula to flip it and cook the other side. When
the chicken is nearly cooked through, add the tofu. Stir to combine and cook
for a minute to heat through.
- Add the chiles and kaffir lime leaf, then
sprinkle on the soy and fish sauce mixture. Stir-fry for a minute to combine
the flavors and allow the tofu to absorb the seasonings. Then add the basil.
When the leaves wilt, about 15 seconds, take the pan off the heat. Sprinkle
with white pepper, give things a turn, then transfer to a serving dish. Enjoy Thai
style, over rice on plates with fork and spoon.
- How to Use Tofu for Low-Meat Dishes
- Burmese Pork Belly, Pickled Mustard Greens and Tofu
- Chicken, Tofu, and Shiitake Lettuce Cups