Thai Basil Beef is a super quick stir fry that you can have on the table in about 20 minutes. But that doesn’t mean it’s short on flavor!
Known locally as pad kra pao, this classic dish is enhanced with your usual Asian food staples like soy, oyster and fish sauce, along with some heat from bird’s eye chilis and the distinct taste of Thai basil.
If you need an interesting new weeknight dinner, Thai basil beef is your answer.
Why We Love this Recipe
- Bold Flavors: The combination of garlic, Thai bird’s eye chilis, and sauces like soy, oyster, and fish sauce, not to mention the Thai basil, creates a richly flavorful experience that is both savory and slightly sweet, with a spicy kick.
- Versatility: While the recipe calls for ground beef, it’s versatile enough to accommodate other proteins like chicken (yep, Thai Basil Chicken is a thing), pork, or even tofu for a vegetarian twist.
- Quick and Easy: With a preparation time of only 5 minutes and a cook time of 15 minutes, this dish is perfect for a quick yet satisfying meal. It’s ideal for busy weeknights or when you need a flavorful meal without a lot of fuss.
- Comfort Food: Served over warm white rice with a fried egg on top, this dish is the epitome of comfort food. It’s hearty and fulfilling, making it a comforting meal after a long day.
- Authentic Thai Experience: Pad kra pao, or holy basil stir fry, is a staple in Thai cuisine, offering an authentic taste of Thailand’s rich culinary heritage right in your kitchen.
So What is Thai Basil Beef?
Thai Basil Beef, is a quintessential Thai street food dish celebrated for its vibrant and bold flavors. It typically features ground beef stir-fried with a spicy and aromatic mixture of garlic, Thai bird’s eye chilis, and a blend of sauces including soy, oyster, and fish sauce.
The star ingredient, Thai basil, infuses the dish with its unique peppery and slightly anise-like flavor, distinguishing it from other basil varieties.
This dish is not only cherished for its taste but also for its simplicity and versatility. It’s often served over steamed white rice, making for a comforting and satisfying meal. Topping it with a fried egg is traditional, adding richness and an extra layer of flavor.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Thai Basil – The centerpiece of the dish, Thai basil, has a distinct flavor that’s different from sweet basil. If Thai basil is not available, you can substitute it with sweet basil for a different but still delicious flavor. However, for an authentic taste, Thai basil is preferred. You can typically find it in Asian grocery stores.
- Ground Beef – We find 90/10 lean to be best for this recipe. Anything leaner can be too dry, fattier can lead to a greasy dish.
- Thai Bird’s Eye Chilis – These chilis are known for their fiery heat. If you prefer a less spicy dish or can’t find them, you can substitute with other fresh chilis like serrano or jalapeño, adjusting the amount to suit your heat preference. Dried chili flakes, or an Asian chili paste such as gochujang, are also options for a convenient alternative.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic is essential for its pungent flavor.
- Sauces – The combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and dark soy sauce creates a complex flavor profile. If oyster sauce is not available, hoisin sauce can be a suitable substitute, though it’s sweeter. If you don’t have fish sauce, a bit of extra soy sauce with a splash of lime juice can mimic its umami and tang. Dark soy can be replaced with more regular.
- Sugar – White sugar is used to balance the flavors. It can be replaced with brown sugar for a deeper sweetness, or honey for a natural alternative.
- Cooking Oil – Any neutral oil like vegetable or canola oil is suitable for stir-frying.
Step by Step Instructions
1. Crush the garlic and chilis: Although you can finely mince them in a pinch, if you have a pestle and mortar available, use that to crush the garlic and chilis into a paste.
2. Sauté chili-garlic paste: Heat oil in wok over high heat, then sauté chili-garlic paste for 20 seconds.
3. Cook pepper and beef: Add bell pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Then add the ground beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until beef is browned.
4. Finish the dish: Add sugar and sauces, stir until well mixed. Fold in basil. Remove from heat immediately, so the basil doesn’t overcook.
- Protein Variations: You can easily switch out the beef for ground chicken, pork, or turkey. Each protein brings its unique flavor and texture to the dish. For a vegetarian or vegan version, crumbled tofu or tempeh can be a great substitute, absorbing the flavors well.
- Heat Level Adjustments: The heat in this dish comes from Thai bird’s eye chilis. If you’re sensitive to spice, reduce the number of chilis or replace them with milder ones like serrano or jalapeño. If you’re a big spice fan, you can increase the number of chilis.
- Sauce Variations: Experiment with the ratios of soy sauce, oyster sauce, fish sauce, and dark soy sauce to find the balance you prefer. For instance, adding more fish sauce can enhance the umami flavor, while increasing the oyster sauce can make the dish sweeter and less salty.
- Vegetable Additions: Feel free to include more vegetables like mushrooms, green beans, or baby corn to add texture and nutritional value. This also makes the dish more filling and colorful.
- Serving Options: While traditionally served over white rice, it can also be paired with brown rice, quinoa, or even cauliflower rice for a low-carb option. Or try it over any type of Asian noodles, like our Spicy Noodles. Other ideas: in lettuce wraps, over a green salad, as a topping for ramen, or even folded in tortillas (yes, it works!)
Leftovers and Storage
Pad kra pao is great as leftovers, making it an ideal meal prep option for the whole week. Go ahead and make a double batch, and you can serve it various different ways.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months. Simply thaw overnight in the fridge.
Reheat in the microwave until heated through out, or in a skillet over medium heat with a splash of extra water.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Use a Hot Wok: High heat is key for stir-frying. Make sure your wok or skillet is very hot before adding the ingredients. This ensures a quick cook, keeping the beef tender and the vegetables crisp.
- Balance the Flavors: The beauty of Thai cooking lies in the balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy flavors. Taste as you go and adjust the seasonings accordingly. The fish sauce adds saltiness, the sugar balances with sweetness, and the chilis provide the heat.
- Properly Brown the Beef: Allow the ground beef to cook undisturbed for a few minutes before breaking it up. This helps in getting a good sear on the meat, adding depth to the flavor.
- Mince the Garlic and Chilis Finely: Finely minced garlic and chilis release more flavor and distribute more evenly throughout the dish, ensuring every bite is flavorful. We recommend using a pestle and mortar to crush it into a paste.
- Don’t Overcook the Basil: Add the basil at the end and cook it just enough to wilt. Overcooking can cause it to lose its vibrant color and flavor.
- Serve Immediately: This dish is best enjoyed fresh off the stove, as the flavors and textures are at their peak right after cooking.
Take your taste buds to the streets of Bangkok with this authentic and iconic street food, Pad Kra Pao. This lightning fast stir fry is sure to satisfy!
Pin or bookmark this great recipe so you always know where to find it. And be sure to subscribe to GypsyPlate, we’re always cooking up new recipes for you.
For more easy weeknight dinners, check out our hand picked collection of Dinner Ideas for Tonight. Until next time…
Thai Basil Beef, on our Gypsy Plate… enjoy!
- 10-12 cloves garlic
- 7-8 Thai bird's eye chilis
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1½ pounds lean ground beef
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1½ cups Thai basil
- Crush chilis and peeled garlic into a paste.
- Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add chili-garlic paste and stir for 20 seconds.
- Add bell pepper and sauté for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the ground beef and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until beef is browned.
- Add sugar and sauces, stir until well mixed.
- Fold in basil. Remove from heat immediately, so the basil doesn't overcook.
- Serve over fresh white rice, top with fried eggs and garnish with additional Thai basil.
- This same recipe can be used for ground chicken, turkey or pork.
- Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave, or in a skillet over medium heat.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 632Total Fat 36gSaturated Fat 11gTrans Fat 1gUnsaturated Fat 19gCholesterol 177mgSodium 1828mgCarbohydrates 15gFiber 1gSugar 4gProtein 59g
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Welcome to GypsyPlate! I'm Alpana, former wordwide tour manager and professional caterer, now full time blogger. I love exploring cuisines from around the world, and my recipes have been featured on sites such as MSN, Parade, Brit + Co, CNET and AOL. You can explore my entire collection of sortable recipes in my Recipe Index or learn more about me here.
Never miss a recipe!
Join the GypsyPlate mailing list and get easy dinner recipes right in your mailbox. From homestyle comfort food to exotic dishes from around the world.