The Quintessential Thai Street Dish

In soliciting feedback from some of my readers, one thing that has come up fairly often is that my recipes are a bit complicated. Although that’s a fair point, this website is not entirely geared towards novices. It’s true, there are some complicated recipes that I’ve developed and published. That said, there are plenty of easy ones as well. I do this, not to intimidate, but to achieve the best possible results. My instructions are also so detailed that you should be able to reproduce any recipe at home with an intermediate skill level in the kitchen. Also, let it be known, I cut a lot of corners, simplifying what I present in recipes on this site considerably versus what I do myself. Given all of that, the following recipe is relatively easy, I promise.

It comes to us from Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, where street food reigns supreme. This dish, called kaphrao mu or Thai basil pork, is among the favorite local dishes in Thailand, basically available everywhere you turn. That said, it’s best had where it supposedly originated, in Chiang Mai.

In addition to being easy to prepare, this recipe is also versatile. It pairs equally well with ground pork (as presented here) or with chunks of pork, chicken, white fish, shrimp, eggplant, yams, sweet potato or any number of other proteins and vegetables. Traditionally, it’s even served with an over easy fried egg, so when doing just vegetables, there are still no hangups around protein content or diversity.

IMG_5314
Thai basil swai fish

As with all Thai dishes, this recipe is only a starting point. Feel free to vary the amounts of any of the ingredients (within reason) based on your taste, especially the level of picante (chili pepers), umami and saltiness (fish sauce and soy sauce), sweetness (palm sugar),  sourness (lime juice) and richness (oil). Always keep in mind that you should maintain taste balance, though. For your convenience, the following chart should be helpful to this end:

article-015-tasting-table

You can read more about Thai food, taste balance and aromatic blending in my previous articles. Also, note that this recipe directly employs many of my cheap tricks for delicious cooking (another article worth reading) and the cooking technique is (thankfully) updated to modern standards. Happy eating!

Have a question? Ask me anything!

Ingredients – Serves Four

IMG_5329
Thai basil gound pork and Thai eggplant

Main Ingredients
500 g (about 18 oz) high quality ground pork
6 medium Thai eggplants, stems removed and cubed into eighths
9 large sprigs Thai basil, leaves only
Six cups of cooked Thai jasmine rice, cooked according to producer instructions

Pork Seasoning Paste
20 g (about 2 tbsp) fine garlic powder
2 g (about 1 tsp) finely ground cayenne pepper
20 g (about 1 tbsp) Thai extra virgin fermented fish sauce
10 g (about 1 tsp) dark soy sauce
Filtered water

Seasoned Oil
50 g (about 3.5 tbsp) neutral oil such as soybean oil or avocado oil
60 g (about 8 to 10 cloves) garlic, finely diced

Sauce
6 large red Thai bird chilis, stems removed and sliced into thin medallions
30 g (a piece approximately 2 cm in across and 3 cm deep) fresh ginger, peeled and rough chopped
4 medium green onions, rough chopped
50 g (about 2.5 tbsp) Thai strongly fermented fish sauce or Thai extra virgin fermented fish sauce
50 g (about 1.75 fl oz) 80 proof neutral spirit (such as vodka)
4 large green serrano peppers, stems removed and slivered lengthwise
Filtered water

Finishing Ingredients
4 g (about 1 tbsp) coriander seeds, finely ground
10 g (about 2 tsp) Thai Coconut palm sugar
15 g (about 1 tbsp) fresh squeezed lime juice, strained
Additional Thai extra virgin fermented fish sauce, as required

Garnish
1 large sprig Thai basil, leaves only, sliced
2 large sprigs Thai coriander leaves or cilantro, leaves only, sliced

Optional
Four high quality chicken eggs cooked in neutral oil, over easy

Substitutions
You may substitute an equivalent amount of white fish, shrimp, pork tenderloin, chicken thigh, a sweet potato or Japanese yam for the ground pork. If so, you will skip the step of seasoning with the paste.

Preparation

  1. Mix the dry portion of the Pork Seasoning Paste ingredients together in a small bowl. Add the fish sauce and sir until well integrated. Add a small splash of addition water, as needed, to turn into a paste with all the powders homogeneously-integrated, with no dry patches or wet accumulations.
  2. In a large bowl, add the pork and create a large dimple in the center. Add the paste to the dimple and delicately work the paste into the meat with your hands. Use a method similar to kneading dough, but much more light-handed. Try not to overwork the meat as it will alter the texture. Cover and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 150 °C (302 °F). Combine the Seasoned Oil ingredients in an oven safe ramekin,  ensuring the garlic is entirely submerged in the oil. If required to fully submerge garlic, add just enough additional oil. When the oven is at temperature, add the ramekin to the oven. When the garlic is at a steady fry in the oil, about 10 minutes, give the mixture a careful but thorough stir. Fry for an additional 5 minutes. Separate the garlic from the oil with a fine mesh strainer such as a chinois. Set both the garlic and the oil aside, separately.
  4. Heat a large frying pan over medium heat to 225 °C (437 °F). Warm just enough of the seasoned oil to coat the pan, no more than a quarter of the oil. Saute eggplant until lightly brown on two sides, about three to five minutes. Set aside.
  5. Add additional oil, ensuring the temperature remains at 225 °C. In three equal batches, form a loose patty from the pork and brown on both sides, about two minutes per side. Break up the patty into small pieces and ensure each piece is just cooked though enough not to show pink. When done, place in a fresh large bowl. Repeat the same procedure for the remaining meat, adding additional oil as needed. Do not use more than half of the oil in total to this point.
  6. In the same pan or wok, pour the remaining seasoned oil, ensuring the temperature remains at 225 °C. Moving to the ingredients under the Sauce category, add the Thai chili peppers and saute until large amounts of picante steam begin to rise above the pan, about two minutes. You will be able to feel it in your eyes and lungs (seriously), so be careful if you are inexperienced with chili peppers. Add the ginger and continue to saute until just aromatic, about one minute.
  7. Continuing with the ingredients under the Sauce category, add the fish sauce, vodka and a small splash of water, stirring to integrate. Bring to a light simmer and then add the green onions and simmer until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the serrano peppers and simmer until just beginning to soften, about one minute.
  8. Add back pork along with all of the runoff juices, the eggplant and coriander seeds. Bring to a light simmer. Taste the pork with sauce. It should taste very umami-heavy, savory and adequately salted. If this is not the case, add additional fish sauce until the umami and salt are to your liking. Next add the palm sugar and the lime juice, stirring to integrate and taste again. It should taste bright with the sweetness barely perceptible. If it tastes tart, add a small amount of additional palm sugar. If it tastes too sweet, add additional lime juice.
  9. When adequately balanced, add all of the Thai basil, folding delicately to integrate. Simmer until just softened, about 30 seconds. Remove from heat immediately. Portion rice among four bowls and top with equal amounts of the pork and sauce. If an over easy egg is desired, place it on top of the pork. Portion out the garnishes and top each dish. Serve immediately.

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