I reckon this dish–meat fried with a kind of basil leaf, garlic and chilies–is the closest equivalent to Thai “comfort” food. It’s quick, nourishing and delicious, and is available just about everywhere. You can make it with virtually any meat or seafood, although I’ve decided to use the ubiquitous (and delicious) squid.
A couple things to keep in mind when making phat kraphrao at home are that you’ll need bai kraphrao (holy basil, the dish’s namesake), not bai horaphaa, Thai basil. Bai horaphaa, although more familiar to most people, is almost only eaten raw, or as a garnish. Bai kraphrao, on the other hand, is always cooked, and it’s bitter-spicy flavour is a world apart from the sweet, anise-like taste of bai horaphaa.
Also, ideally you’ll want a hot, preferably gas or propane stove to make this dish. The idea with this dish is to cook it quickly and at a high heat to allow the ingredients to remain fresh and crispy. If you really know what you’re doing, you can also tilt the wok and “ignite” the dish while cooking in order to impart a delicious smoky flavour (shown below). If an electric stove is all you’ve got, then by all means go ahead, but the relatively low heat means that the dish will inevitably be slightly soggy and overcooked.
And as always, I’m not going to tell you how much seasoning you need to put into the dish. I recommend adding fish sauce a teaspoon (or small glug) at a time, tasting after each addition to make sure you’ve added enough. For reference, phat kraphrao should be slightly salty and spicy, so feel free to indulge. And if after cooking you’ve found it’s not spicy enough, you can always make a quick bowl of phrik naam plaa, sliced chilies and garlic in fish sauce, a typical accompaniment to this dish.
Here’s what you’ll need to make two dishes of phat kraphrao:
Squid (or other meat or seafood), 4 medium
Bai kraphrao, (holy basil), two large handfuls
Long bean, 4-5 beans
Garlic, about 4-5 large cloves
Chilies, to taste
Cooking oil, 2 Tbsp
Fish sauce, to taste
Oyster sauce, about 1 Tbsp
Sugar (optional), to taste
Rice (not optional), two plates
Fried egg (optional)
Prik naam plaa (optional)
Begin by cleaning and preparing your squid (if you’re not sure how this is done, go here). Slice into thick rings and set aside.
Wash bai kraphrao and remove the leaves:
Set aside. Wash long bean and cut into 1/2-inch pieces:
Set aside. In a mortar and pestle, grind up your garlic and chilies into a coarse mash (not a fine paste):
Prepare your mise en place: within reaching distance of your wok, place a bottle of fish sauce, a bowl of sugar and a bottle of water. Have all your ingredients close at hand, open and ready to throw in the wok. The entire cooking time of this dish should be no more than a minute, so you won’t have time to be hunting around for things once you’ve begun.
With the flame on med-high, heat 1 Tbsp of oil and add half of the mashed chilies and garlic. Saute about 10 seconds:
Increase heat to high and add half of the sliced long bean and a tablespoon or two of water. Fry until long bean is cooked but still crispy, about 20 seconds:
Add half of the squid, followed by a splash of fish sauce, oyster sauce and sugar (if using). Stirring constantly at very high heat, fry until squid is just done, about 10 seconds:
Add a tablespoon or two of water if mixture is beginning to dry out, and toss in a haldful basil (don’t worry if this looks like too much; the basil shrinks considerably when cooked). Stir thoroughly to combine, taste and add more fish sauce or sugar if necessary. Fry until basil is just wilted but not limp, about 15 additional seconds.
Serve phat kraphrao steaming hot over hot rice with a fried egg on top, if desired. Repeat with remaining ingredients.