Sweet soy sauce and Thai basil give this spicy dish an authentic flavor. You should be able to find both at Asian food stores. Don't use regular soy sauce; it has little in common with its sweet cousin, which is a thick syrup that tastes a little like molasses. If you can't find it, dilute some mild molasses with a little chicken or vegetable broth, or mix equal parts of soy sauce and brown sugar.
Thai basil, sometimes called Asian basil, is slightly sweeter than the more familiar Mediterranean variety and has smaller leaves. Mediterranean basil leaves cut into halves or thirds can stand in; the taste will be a little different.
Serve this dish with rice.
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 2 small shallots
- 2 to 4 small Thai bird chili or serrano chili peppers
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 1/4 cup canola or peanut oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (kecap manis; see headnote)
- 2 to 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 1/2 cups Thai basil leaves (from about 2 bunches)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Mince the garlic and cut the shallots into thin slices. Seed, then finely chop the chili peppers.
Trim any visible fat from the chicken. Cut the chicken into 3/4-inch pieces.
Heat a large wok or nonstick saute pan over medium heat for 40 seconds, then pour in the oil from around the perimeter of the wok or pan so that it coats the sides and the bottom.
When the oil shimmers (after about 30 seconds), add the garlic, shallots and chili peppers; stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until they have picked up a little golden color. Add the chicken and stir-fry for about 8 to 10 minutes, until almost all traces of pink are gone.
Increase the heat to medium-high; add the sweet soy sauce and fish sauce. Stir-fry for 3 minutes, making sure the chicken is cooked through. Add the basil to the wok or pan, tearing any very large ones in half; add the white pepper and stir-fry for a few seconds, then remove from the heat. Divide among individual plates and serve hot.
Adapted from "The Spice Merchant's Daughter: Recipes and Simple Spice Blends for the American Kitchen," by Christina Arokiasamy (Clarkson-Potter, 2008).
Tested by Jane Touzalin.
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