From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Asian Favorites at Home
In Thailand, street vendors have mastered an alternative to traditional Chinese high-heat stir-fry, using low flames to produce complex and flavorful dishes like chicken and basil—chopped pieces of moist chicken in a bright, basil-infused sauce. We set out to create our own version.
To start, we turned to the aromatics. Because Thai stir-fries are cooked over a lower temperature, the aromatics are added at the very beginning of cooking, where they infuse the oil with their flavors. To prevent scorching, we started our aromatics (garlic, chiles, and shallots) in a cold skillet.
It was too time-consuming to chop our chicken by hand, so we turned to the food processor. To ensure moist meat, we added fish sauce to the food processor when we ground the chicken, then rested the meat in the refrigerator—the fish sauce acted as a brine, seasoning the chicken and sealing in moisture. Next, we moved on to the sauce. For our sauce base, we liked Chinese-style oyster-flavored sauce brightened with a dash of white vinegar. We spiced up the flavor of the sauce by adding a reserved tablespoon of the raw garlic-chile mixture at the end of cooking. And for intense, bright basil flavor, we cooked a portion of chopped basil with the garlic, chile, and shallot mixture, and stirred in whole basil leaves just before serving.
Since tolerance for spiciness can vary, we’ve kept our recipe relatively mild. Sweetness without sufficient heat can become cloying, so we also cut back the sugar. For a very mild version of the dish, remove the seeds and ribs from the chiles. If fresh Thai chiles are unavailable, substitute 2 serranos or 1 medium jalapeño. In Thailand, crushed red pepper and sugar are passed at the table, along with extra fish sauce and white vinegar, so the dish can be adjusted to suit individual taste. Serve with steamed rice and vegetables, if desired.