Western cooks too often go too light on fresh herbs, treating them more as garnish than flavoring. We prefer the Thai approach, which uses ingredients such as basil, mint and cilantro by the fistful.
Take Thailand’s chicken-and-basil stir-fry – gai pad krapow – which piles on basil, adding sweetness balanced by just a touch of herbal bitterness. We loved the simplicity of this popular street food, which sometimes is served with an egg on top.
In our version in the book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights,” which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we double down on the basil, using at two different times for two different flavors. Since this recipe calls for a skillet rather than a wok, the cooking is broken into two steps. The chicken comes first, with vegetables added later to keep them crisp.
Chopped basil leaves are added to the freshly cooked chicken, which mellows the herb’s flavor as the leaves gently wilt while we cook sugar snap peas. Then after mixing everything together, 3 cups of lightly torn basil go into the dish to add peppery flavor that stays fresh.
A quick marinade of fish sauce, soy sauce and white pepper seasons the chicken and helps brown the meat. And scallion whites and greens, also added at different stages in the stir-fry, contribute an allium bite.
To prepare the chicken, cut each breast lengthwise into ½-inch strips, then cut the strips crosswise into 1-inch pieces. And be sure all ingredients are prepared before starting to cook. The stir-fry comes together quickly, so everything should be ready and close at hand.
Stir-Fried Chicken with Snap Peas and Basil
Start to finish: 30 minutes
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce, divided
Ground white pepper
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus 3 cups torn and lightly packed
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 ounces sugar snap peas, strings removed, halved on the bias
8 scallions, white and light green parts finely chopped, dark green tops cut into 1-inch pieces
2 or 3 serrano chilies, stemmed and thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon white sugar
In a medium bowl, stir together the chicken, soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of the fish sauce and ½ teaspoon white pepper. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry with paper towels.
In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until just smoking. Add the chicken in an even layer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until well browned and cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl, then stir in the chopped basil and vinegar. Set aside.
Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high until barely smoking. Add the snap peas, scallion whites/light greens and chilies. Cook, stirring, until the peas are lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the sugar. Add the scallion tops and the chicken with any accumulated juices and cook, stirring, until most of the juices have evaporated, about 1 minute.
Off heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons fish sauce and the torn basil. Stir until the basil is wilted. Taste and season with white pepper.
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