Thai Style Basil Chicken – Let Down By The Props.

I admit it. I’m a hoarder. Not one of those guys who lives in a clapperboard house, having to crawl through tunnels of old newspapers to get to the loo. But, not far off it. It’s the plates and bowls that have got me into trouble. I can’t help buying more and more plates that will “Look good in a shot”. They need to have a bit of style about them and they also need to be a bargain (I may be obsessed, but, I’m not stupid.). I did a quick count in my ‘blog room’. I have ninety six, yes 96 different plates and bowls. That’s an obsession, before we look at the glasses, knives and forks, chopping boards, decorative saucepans and table cloths, backdrops and so forth. With all this in mind, you would think that I would be able to find a suitable bowl for my take on Thai Style Basil Chicken. As you can see from the photo, I obviously can’t.

Speaking of props, what do you think of my table surface? It’s part of a set of wood flooring, trimmed to size and stuck together with gaffer tape. I keep a few different options in my shed.  Anyway, to the recipe.

Ingredients (for two hungry people)

  • 500 grammes of boneless, skinless free range chicken thighs.
  • 200ml of good quality chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of oyster sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar (or palm sugar, if you have it)
  • 2/3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 Thai chilis (The small, hot, little bastards that make you cough when they are cooking)
  • 6 good sized spring onions
  • 5cm / 2″ piece of root ginger
  • Generous handful of peanuts
  • 2 to 3 handfuls of fresh basil

As with most Oriental recipes, there is a lot of chopping to be done. This is not random stuff that one sees lots of people do in their “recipes” There is a reason around texture, taste and/or appearance for all the chopping sizes. I like to also put a bit of logic around by slicing.Leaving the meat until last, I cut the mildest ingredients first, working up to the hottest. This prevents onion tears, chilli screaming after eye wiping and so forth. Chop the ginger and garlic like in the photo below.

I have a great Chinese cleaver that I have been using for over 20 years. It looks great. Let’s call it a “working prop”.

One of the great things about writing and shooting a food blog is that the ingredients can act as props too. The spring onions, being partly translucent, let light through and look lovely.

I’m stretching a point when I call the ingredients props. What the hell!

Those bastard chilis are not translucent but have great colour, reflect a lot of light off their shiny surface and look wonderful in their bright green and red.

Remind me to tell you about the quantity of these lads to use.

I sliced more of the chillis then I should have. They are really powerful and I sliced twice as many as I needed, in the interest of a half decent food photo.

Next slice the chicken into thumb-joint sized pieces. This is to allow them cook quickly, take on a good deal of the sauce and stick to the other ingredients with every mouthful. Put the peanuts in a bag and hit them with a rolling pin or similar blunt instrument. We want them about as small as the sliced ginger.

I suppose it depends on the size of your thumb joints. But, you get the idea.

Mix together the sugar, soy, fish sauce, oyster sauce, and stock. Pop a small amount of oil into a very hot wok and add the chicken pieces. Unless you are blessed with a restaurant wok that can hit and maintain 800ºC, cook the chicken pieces in batches. Stir fry it until it changes colour. The pieces are not very big and won’t need much time.

Half way through the process these don’t need much more initial cooking.

Pour off any excess oil. Put all the chicken in the wok and add in the garlic, ginger and spring onions. Stir fry this for a bit until the spring onions have wilted and the garlic and ginger have started to release their wonderful aromas. Add the chillis. Stir and incorporate. Add the liquid, stirring until it reduces by about two thirds. The chicken will finish cooking through. The sugar and sauces will be starting to take on a nice sheen and the sauce will be getting nice and sticky.

Looking at this shot, I reckon I should have used a bigger wok.

Serve the dish using a better bowl than the cruddy brown thing I chose. I did it in a moment of weakness. That bowl has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be used for a couple of years. I regret the awful looking dish and apologise for my poor choices. I promise to try harder in future.

It really is an ugly dish that reflects too much light and also hides the food.

The Thai Style Basil Chicken was delightful and I can highly recommend it. Just don’t serve it in a truly awful looking bowl.

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Latest comments
  • Conor, we share a similar obsession. However, you are a bit ahead of me in plate count. Thai basil chicken is my standard takeaway order. I’ve made it a few times, but I my wok sits on an induction stovetop. I just can’t get the heat and taste I want. With that said, you’ve inspired me to give it another go with your fine formula.

  • One of my very favourite go-to Thai dishes I have not made awhile. Methinks a wee extra soy, fish and oyster sauces will find their way into the pan and I am glad Ron took for granted you meant Thai basil as it is so different from those used in Europe. Have just potted my summer plants. Actually my ‘artistic’ eye does not mind your bowl long awaiting service a’tall . . .

  • Conor is the basil just a garnish or do you tear it and chuck it in before serving? Which I probably would.

  • The bowl *is* a bit of a distraction… not being a proper food blogger, I content myself with a large range of white china plates, bowls and dishes. Works for me, on the basis that at least they don’t distract, but your props are always on a totally different level. I have a 5-burner gas range with a fairly large wok burner in the middle. I don’t manage to achieve 800°, but it does get a good bit hotter than electricity or a smaller gas burner – certainly enough to burn the garlic quickly unless I keep an eye on things.

  • I have a similar problem with my hobs, Ron, so I bought an electric wok. Depends on how much space you have free but I find it really useful.

    • Thanks Linda. I had one of those once, but also has a gas stove then so never used it much. Now I just have to find a place to store one. Maybe on top of my plates.

      • Ours is precariously balanced in a tall cupboard. My husband has already broken the handle on the lid!

      • Tossing isn’t a problem, though I admit it’s a b*gger to clean. 🙂

  • Oops, that was meant to be a reply to Ron’s comment. Oh well, hopefully he’ll see it. The dish (recipe looks fabulous), the dish (bowl) I’d have to agree is less so. I am a hoarder too of bowls, plates and bits of nonsense I think will end up in a photo but often don’t. We all buy at least one we regret but happily we all trust your cooking so pish and tosh, it doesn’t matter one whit. Linda x

      • A generous offer but I couldn’t possibly take advantage of your good nature. 😉

  • And now I’m misplacing my parentheses. Time to sign off before I really embarrass myself. Have a great week. Lx

  • Now that the bowl has had its 15 minutes of fame, off to the charity shop. 😉 (I don’t think it’s that bad — your weekly food porn makes up for any perceived plating clunkers.)

  • Yes, you are right about the pot. But the writing and photography are lovely and you are clearly a man after my own heart in the food stakes. Always a great read.
    Can I just say to your readers, don’t get too stirred up about basil, folks. Thai basil (and also holy basil) are bloody impossible to get if you don’t live in a city with a good Asian food market – I’d recommend the emporium opposite the Jervis Luas stop if you live in Dublin, or maybe the Asia Market in Drury Street. Common or garden basil will do fine, though the flavour won’t be quite as distinctive.
    Incidentally, I make a very similar dish, adding a whole stick of lemon grass cut fine and some lime leaves (again, lime zest if you don’t have access to them).
    Keep it going, Conor.

  • Oh, my Blog. What’s happened to you, Bofin? I can’t believe you let your standards slip by not reshooting and recooking the whole thing to suit a better dish. My second question is – is it worth me buying every single other ingredient for this recipe just because I have a basil plant that’s crying out to be stripped? Asking for a friend.

  • It doesn’t look brown to me, it looks like it has stripes. It works! But then, I’m not the best judge of props. Food, yes, and this chicken dish looks fabulous.

  • Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and your prop certainly wouldn’t stop me from wanting your chicken…no matter what you served it in.

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