20-Minute Spicy Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Gaprao Gai)

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Learn how to make this 20 minute Thai basil chicken stir fry (Pad Gaprao Gai) for a speedy weeknight dinner! This better than take-out recipe is loaded with flavor and vegetables for a dish that will satisfy your cravings for Thai food in a pinch.

Thai basil chicken served in a black bowl with a side of Jasmine rice
Thai Basil Chicken with vegetables

We love Thai food, particularly my husband loves it so much that even when we are on our vacation, he’ll make sure he gets his weekly fix of this spicy and delicious cuisine.

Of all the dishes, Thai basil chicken or Pad Gaprao Gai (where pad = stir-fry, gaprao = holy basil, and gai = chicken) is his absolute favorite. A staple in Thai restaurants, this dish combines ground chicken with peppery holy basil in a spicy, brown sauce which is served over jasmine rice and a fried egg on the side.

It is a must-have dish in my book if you like spicy food with a hint of sweetness. Don’t worry, you don’t need a ton of time to make this dish. It needs only 20 minutes from start to finish which makes it a perfect weeknight meal!

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Takes less than 20 minutes cook making it perfect for weeknight dinners.
  • The recipe has been updated a tiny bit so that it can be made with pantry staple ingredients.
  • No added dairy makes it a great dairy-free dinner.
  • Easily adaptable – Add different vegetables into this delicious stir fry to make it your own!

How to Make Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry

Ingredients

  • Soy sauce – Use the Thai soy sauce for the best results. If that is not available, regular soy sauce is fine.
  • Fish sauce gives the dish an umami flavor.
  • Oyster sauce for its rich and savory taste.
  • Bird’s eye chili + garlic or chili garlic sauce –  The authentic Thai basil chicken recipe calls for fresh garlic (4-5 cloves) and red Thai bird’s eye chilies (around 3-4) to be used in the recipe. I have used a shortcut and used store-bought chili garlic sauce to cut down prep time and also because fresh red chilies can sometimes be hard to find.
  • Chicken – 1 lb. ground chicken or 1 lb. chicken cut into bite-sized pieces works for this recipe. I prefer the ground chicken because it cooks through quicker making it perfect for busy weeknight dinners.
  • Vegetables– aromatic onions and bell peppers give this Thai basil chicken stir fry a little crunch and depth of flavor.
  • Brown sugar (optional) for a hint of sweetness
  • Holy Basil – the final ingredient adds a peppery bite to the dish. If you cannot find it, replace it with sweet basil (more on this later).

Substitutions

  1. Used brown sugar instead of sweet dark soy sauce  – If you can find the dark sweet soy sauce use about 1/2 tablespoon in this recipe instead of brown sugar. It adds depth along with a hint of sweetness.

Directions

  1. In a bowl, stir together soy sauce, fish sauce, and oyster sauce. Set aside for later.
  2. Heat a wok or a large pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add oil. When the oil heats up, add onion and chili garlic sauce.
  3. When the onion softens and turns translucent after 2-3 minutes add the ground chicken. Using a spatula, break the ground chicken into smaller pieces as it cooks.
  4. Cook the ground chicken until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  5. Next, pour the sauce over the chicken and mix well.
  6. Add the chopped bell peppers and cook for 2-3 minutes until softened.
  7. [Optional] Add brown sugar to add a hint of sweetness to the Thai basil chicken.
  8. Remove the wok from the heat and stir in the holy basil leaves.
  9. Serve this easy Thai basil chicken with jasmine rice and fried eggs. You can also pair this Pad Krapow Gai with lettuce wraps to cut down on the carbs.
A 9 grid of the different steps to make thai basil chicken.
Thai Basil Chicken – step by step pictures

Variations

If you want to vary the recipe a bit to use what you have in your kitchen, here’s how you can do it –

  1. Instead of onions, use scallions. Separate the white and green parts. Use the white part while cooking and save the green leaves for garnishing.
  2. If ground chicken is not available, substitute it with chicken thighs. Chop them into 1-inch cubes. It will take a little longer to cook through – add approximately 10 minutes to the cooking time.
  3. Using vegetables are optional in this dish but I love to incorporate bell peppers and sometimes even chopped green beans in this recipe.
  4. Finish this dish with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice and about 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro.

Notes

  • If you cannot find holy basil, it is okay to substitute it with the basil you can get in your grocery store.
  • As with any recipe, make sure to adjust the pepper levels to taste.
  • There is enough salt in the sauces so you won’t need to add any.
A large red dutch oven with thai basil chicken stir fry and a black spoon on a black counter.
Thai Basil Chicken Stir Fry

Thai basil vs. Holy basil – what’s the difference?

A popular herb in Thai cooking, holy basil plays a key role in this Thai basil chicken recipe. Holy basil is native to southeast Asia and has been used in both Indian medicine and cooking for over 3000 years.

Thai basil (horapa in Thai) and holy basil (gaprao) may come from the same plant family but they differ in appearance and taste.

Looking at the two basils you will notice that Thai basil has a smooth finish and have green or purple stems. Holy basil, on the other hand, appears grey-green in color with a coarse touch.

The flavor of the two basils also differs dramatically. Thai basil is sweeter and has a licorice and anise note making it perfect for coconut-based curries whereas holy basil has a mild peppery flavor and that is why it is used in spicy stir-fries and soups.

Read more: Thai basil vs Holy basil

The most common type of basil found at the supermarket is sweet basil or Italian basil. This fragrant herb with intense flavors is most commonly used in Italian dishes as whole leaves or made into pesto.

Can you use sweet basil in Thai food?

Yes, for recipes that call for holy basil, sweet basil / Italian basil is a better substitute than Thai basil. This is because it is has a spicy aroma which makes it a better match than the sweet-tasting Thai basil.

A blue plate with rice topped with thai basil chicken and a fork to the right with a black bowl of thai basil chicken to the back right.
Thai Basil Ground Chicken

Other Chicken Dinner Recipes

Looking for more dinner recipes starring chicken? Here are a few of my family’s favorite chicken recipes.

  1. Chicken Saag– This Chicken Saag recipe is both simple to make yet exotic to taste.
  2. Goan Chicken Vindaloo– Learn how to make this tangy finger-licking chicken vindaloo curry in an Instant Pot or Stovetop.
  3. Chettinad Chicken Curry– If you like spicy chicken curries then this fiery, aromatic Chicken Chettinad curry is right up your alley.
  4. Chicken Tikka Masala– Making restaurant-style chicken tikka masala at home is easier than you think. Learn how to make this iconic dish in an Instant Pot or stove-top quickly and effortlessly.
  5. Tandoori Chicken– This quick and easy Tandoori chicken recipe makes the most flavorful and authentic chicken that is crisp on the outside and succulent on the inside – just like it is supposed to be!


Got a new Instant Pot? Check out the links below to make the most of your pressure cooker -  
A light blue plate topped with fresh rice covered in thai basil chicken and a fork to the right.

20-Minute Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Gaprao Gai)

5 from 2 votes
Learn how to make this 20 minute Thai Basil Chicken stir fry for a speedy weeknight dinner! This better than take-out recipe is loaded with flavor and vegetables for a dish that will satisfy your cravings for Thai food in a pinch. 
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
Diet : Nut-free
Course : Main Course
Method: Stovetop
Cuisine : Thai

Ingredients
  

For the sauce

Remaining ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons oil, peanut or avocado oil
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • 2-3 tablespoons chili garlic sauce, see note
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1 cup chopped bell peppers, green, yellow or red (fresh or frozen)
  • ½ tablespoon brown sugar, optional
  • 2 cups lightly packed basil leaves, preferably holy basil

Instructions
 

  • Combine all the sauces - oyster, fish, and soy. Set aside.
  • Heat the wok or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil. When hot, add chili garlic sauce along with onions.
  • Once the onions start to turn translucent and soften (about 2-3 minutes), add the ground chicken. Using a spatula, break into small pieces as it cooks.
  • Continue to cook until the meat is no longer pink - about 5 minutes.
  • Add the sauce and mix well.
  • Add the chopped bell peppers and cook for 2-3 minutes till slightly softened.
  • [Optional step] Add brown sugar if you like a hint of sweetness.
  • Take the wok off the heat and stir in the basil leaves.
  • Serve with jasmine rice and fried eggs. We often pair it with lettuce wraps to cut down on the carbs.

Notes

I have tried to create this recipe as much as I could with pantry ingredients without compromising on the taste. Here's what I changed - 

Substitutions 

  1. The authentic Thai basil chicken recipe calls for fresh garlic (4-5 cloves) and red Thai bird's eye chilies (around 3-4) to be used in the recipe. I have used a shortcut and used store-bought chili garlic sauce to cut down prep time, and also because fresh red chilies can be hard to find. 
  2. Used brown sugar instead of sweet dark soy sauce  - If you can find dark sweet soy sauce, use about 1/2 tablespoon in this recipe instead of brown sugar. It adds depth along with a hint of sweetness. 

Variations 

If you want to vary the recipe a bit to use what you have in your kitchen, here's how you can do it - 
  1. Instead of onions, you can use scallions. Separate the white and green parts. Use the white part while cooking and save the green leaves for garnishing. 
  2. If ground chicken is not available, substitute chicken thighs. Chop into 1-inch cubes. It will take a little longer to cook through - add approximately 10 minutes to the cooking time. 
  3. Using vegetables are optional in this dish, but I love to incorporate bell peppers and sometimes even chopped green beans in this recipe. 
  4. Finish this dish with 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice and about 1/4 cup of finely chopped cilantro

Pantry EssentialsGetting the right tools for your kitchen makes cooking more enjoyable and less frustrating. Here's a list of kitchen essentials I own and recommend.

Disclosure: This recipe contains affiliate links to products we love and recommend. As an affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition

Calories: 225kcalCarbohydrates: 9gProtein: 13gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 2042mgPotassium: 287mgFiber: 2gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 847IUVitamin C: 34mgCalcium: 42mgIron: 1mg

Disclaimer: Approximate Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and can vary depending on the exact ingredients/brands used. If you have health issues, please work with a registered dietician or nutritionist.

Did you make this recipe?Take a photo and tag @simmertoslimmer on Instagram for a shoutout!
Keyword : easy, Under 30-minutes

This recipe was originally posted on June 14, 2016, and has been completely updated with pictures, step by step photos on 2nd October 2020.

Basil chicken is a classic Thai take out food that is both quick and easy to make and will satisfy your cravings for Thai food in a pinch.

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