Spicy sweet basil chicken

Sweet basil chicken is a big go-to of mine in Thai restaurants. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s fragrant, and it nestles oh-so-nicely over a pile of jasmine rice. Plus, because it’s stir-fried to order, I’ve now started asking for it without garlic or onions, which makes it lower in FODMAPs and easier to digest.

Until recently, I never would have thought to make Thai sweet basil chicken at home. But it’s turned into a staple dish in our household. As with so many stir-fries, it’s easily customizable–add or subtract vegetables you like, and dial the spiciness up or down as you prefer. Plus, unlike the no-garlic-please restaurant version, you can use tricks like garlic oil and scallion tops to restore some of that familiar allium spike.

I make no claims to authenticity here. Bringing this into my American kitchen–and adapting it to be low-FODMAP–means I’ve had to make a few tweaks and tucks to the recipe. It’s not an exact match for the restaurant version, and it’s not trying to be. But it is a darned tasty stir-fry, and much easier on my digestive system than the stuff in the takeout box.

Here’s the first bit of sacrilege: you don’t have to use Thai basil. Oh, you should, if you can find it–the sweet, licorice-y aroma will get the dish closest to what you’d find in an American Thai restaurant. But Italian sweet basil from the grocery store is just as delicious, and often much easier to find. If you’re forever buying a bunch of basil just to use a few leaves, then this is the recipe for you. Just toss in the rest of the leaves, and watch as the wok swallows them up.

thai basil chicken 1

When it comes to the meat, some recipes say to use ground chicken (turkey would work too). Others insist that you buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs and chop them up yourself with a large, sharp knife. I’ve done both, and there are pros and cons. The ground meat is super-convenient, but tends to dry out and turn pebbly when cooked. The chopped meat has a juicier and more pleasant texture, but it’s extra work and can get pretty messy. (Ask the cat: he stationed himself under the counter and vacuumed up the chicken bits that I dropped on the floor.)

Here’s my recommendation: if you can find ground dark meat poultry, use that. It has a richer, meatier flavor than breast meat, and it’s less likely to turn to gravel in the pan. My local grocery store carries ground turkey thigh meat, which works beautifully. If you can’t find something similar, buy boneless, skinless chicken thighs and pulse them in a food processor until they’re the texture of coarsely ground meat. It’s a bit of extra fuss, but I really think it’s worth it.

thai basil chicken 2

Inauthentic Thai Sweet Basil Chicken (serves 2-3 with rice)

Cobbled together from a variety of sources

Note: This recipe can be doubled, but I’d recommend splitting up the cooking into batches. After infusing the garlic, stir-fry the chicken until it’s just cooked through, then transfer it to a bowl. Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan, stir-fry the veggies for two minutes, then add the chicken back in and proceed with the recipe.

For the sauce:

2 tbsp water

1 tbsp oyster sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tsp fish sauce

2 tsp granulated sugar or light brown sugar, or to taste

For the stir-fry:

3/4 lb (12 oz) ground dark meat chicken or turkey (see blog post)

2 tbsp peanut, canola, or vegetable oil

2 large or 4 small garlic cloves, lightly smashed with a knife

1 red or orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces

1/2 cup chopped green beans

2 Thai bird chiles, minced OR 1/2 tsp crushed red chile flakes

Water as needed

Leaves from 1 bunch (about 4 sprigs) sweet basil or Thai basil

Green tops from 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Salt to taste

Cooked white or brown rice for serving

In a small bowl, whisk together water, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, and sugar. Set aside.

Place a wok or large skillet on your largest burner. Add oil and garlic cloves, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is fragrant and light golden brown. Remove and discard the garlic cloves.

Increase the heat under the pan to high, and let the pan heat up for a few seconds. Add chicken and stir-fry for 3-4 minutes, or until the chicken is no longer pink. Add bell pepper, green beans, and chiles, and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the peppers start to soften.

Add the sauce and cook, stirring, until it evenly coats the chicken mixture. At this point, the veggies should be crisp-tender; if you prefer them softer, add a splash of water and cook until the water evaporates.

Turn off the heat under the pan. Add basil leaves and sliced scallion tops, stirring until the basil wilts. Taste and season with salt if needed. Serve with rice.

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