Did I say that fried rice was the hamburger of Thailand?
Well that was a malicious lie…
Truth be known, whenever Thais are caught off guard for a food order, they would blurt out the first thing that comes to mind and to Thais, the first thing that comes to mind is something called Grapau Moo Sub. Literally translated as Basil with chopped pork. Once you’ve had it, you will understand why it deserves the honor of being the most classic of classic Thai dishes.
Though, come to think of it, the name does not give away much regarding the secret of why this is the standard no-brain-food-order in the land of Smiles. Chopped Pork with Basil sounds a little flat, and frankly, rather uninspiring; enough to wipe the smile off my face. However, what makes this a palate shattering dish is the combination of copious quantities of the three main ingredients : Basil, chilli and fish sauce. This, in essence, is what gives the dish its signature taste.
In the following recipe I have used the essence of what I know about Grapau Moo Sub, and combined and adapted it to a recipe I found on Food Network. Though some of the ingredients may be a little unorthodox (I cannot recall ever eating basil with mint in any local Thai plastic chair restaurant), I think it manages to fall squarely inside the ‘Authentic Thai’ category.
You could serve this to the first Thai that stays over for a pajama party at your house, and they would probably marvel at how closely you managed to do ‘real’ Thai without ever setting a toe in Thailand. Wanna really blow off their flip flops ? Add a fried egg and smatterings of extra chilli and serve it for breakfast.
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1 heaped teaspoon cornflower
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 heaped tablespoon grated or finely chopped fresh ginger
2 chopped regular chillies – the length of your ring finger – one red, one green
1 pound medium- large shrimp, (lets call it 12) peeled and deveined
250g fresh calamari or squid cut to bitesize
1 medium onion, roughly chopped (about one inch diced)
1 medium yellow pepper, seeded, cut to 1-inch dice
1 cup cherry tomatoes, measured, then halved
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn, or if you are not measuring , a generous handful
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice – substitute with lemon juice if you have no choice, but use 2 tablespoons instead
- Do all your cutting, slicing and dicing beforehand
- Add soy sauce and cornflower to a small bowl and mix until cornflower has dissolved, add the fish sauce and sugar, stir through
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy bottom pan until very hot
- Add the chopped chilli, garlic ginger and fry briefly until you can smell the aroma (around 30 seconds)
- Add the shrimp and squid/calamari and fry briefly until the shrimp tails change to pink – no more than a minute or so.
- Remove seafood with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Add the remaining spoon vegetable oil and heat until very hot.
- Add the onion and yellow pepper and fry briefly until the onion looses its first shade of color.
- Add the soy / fish sauce / sugar mixture and cook further, until the sauce thickens slightly. Lets call it a minute or two.
- Taste and adjust for balance. It should be equally sweet and salt.
- Add the shrimp/squid mix back into the pan and stirfry for a further 30 seconds.
- Add the cherry tomatoes and mix through, then immediately remove the pan from the heat.
- Off-heat, add the lime/lemon, add the basil and mint, stir through.
- Taste and adjust for final seasoning. The dish should be equaly salt,sour and sweet, with the pungent tang of the basil and a bite from the chilli.
- Serve over Jasmin or Basmati Rice, accompanied by a glass of this excellent ice cold mint tea. The sweet of the ice tea works a charm with the spicy tang in this wonderful stir-fry.
Thai food is super versatile, so apart from the main flavoring ingredients : soy/fishsauce/sugar/chilli/garlic/basil and mint, you can use whatever main ingredients you like.
- For example, use strips of chicken breast instead of the seafood (cook it a minute or two longer) and use any vegetable combination you like. As long as it is fresh, it would work well.
- Let the hard vegetables (julienned carot/broccoli/ cabbage) cook with the onion, and add the soft vegetables, like mushroom, after the onions have shed their initial white color. When using tomato in a stir-fry, it shouldn’t be cooked, as they loose flavor and create a watery mess. The same goes for the lime, mint and basil. It is never cooked, only mixed, off-heat, the moment the dish is done.
- If you have pineapple on hand, chop roughly and add as you would a soft vegetable. No need to add the lime / lemon juice at the end.
- You could replace one table spoon of the soy sauce with a tablespoon of Oyster sauce, if you have it at hand.
- To make this dish even more authentic, chop up 2 chillies add them to a small serving dish, and add one or two tablespoons fishsauce, then place on the table. Your guests can help themselves if they want it a little more salty, or a little more spicy. Also nice if you want to ‘underspice’ with the chilli’s whilst cooking, allowing people to add more chilli if they so wish.