In search of perfect Thai basil pork

Several years ago, when I was a grad student studying in Boston, a Thai friend took several of us to her favorite Thai restaurant. She ordered in a flurry of Thai without so much as a glance at the menu and out came a succession of delicious dishes to our table that evening. And pad gkaprow mu or Thai basil pork was one of them. It had never tasted so good–the heady fragrance of basil and the earthy flavor of pork, rounded up togther with sweet, salty and spicy notes–and it hasn’t since.  This recipe comes pretty close although I’m sure even taste buds can lose their memory.

If you know of the perfect recipe, do drop me a comment! 

Thai Basil Pork (Pad gkaprow mu) 


This versatile recipe is a Thai favorite. Ground pork is usually paired with holy basil (bai gkaprow). However, Thai sweet basil (bai horapa) is much easier to find in Asian markets in America and makes a worthy stand-in. If all else fails, substitute with any basil or a mixture of basil and mint for a bright, refreshing flavor. Ground chicken or turkey also work well in this dish, as well as fresh seafood: Shrimp, scallops, mussels and firm-flesh fish like salmon or halibut.

Time: 25 minutes
Makes: 4 to 6 servings as part of a family-style meal

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds ground pork
1 1/2 cups packed fresh holy basil or Thai basil leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 small shallots (or 1/2 small onion), cut into thin slices (1/2 cup)
6 red Thai chilies, cut into rounds (or to taste)
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Dash white pepper or freshly ground black pepper (optional)

Preheat a 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in oil to coat the bottom of the wok and heat for 10 to 15 seconds until oil thins out and starts to shimmer. Stir in garlic and shallots. Stir 15 to 20 seconds, until garlic is light golden and fragrant.

Add pork, breaking it up with the edge of your spatula. Stir-fry until meat has just lost its blush, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Throw in chilies. Sprinkle oyster, fish and soy sauces and sugar, and toss to mix well. Add basil and stir until leaves are wilted and pork is cooked through, about half to 1 minute. Don’t overcook the pork.

Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper. Serve hot with steamed rice.

If you can’t find Thai chilies, substitute with 4 to 6 serranos or jalapeños, cut into large slivers.

Marie Tran tested this recipe for me, check out her blog for her results. Thanks, Marie!


20 thoughts on “In search of perfect Thai basil pork

  1. Hi, I just made that! I used this recipe , it used black soy sauce which I would imagine is the same as adding the sugar to your recipe above. I used ground pork, lots of chili’s – at least 1/2 cup chopped, and no oyster sauce. It’s wonderfully sharp!
    I love your ginger tea recipe and just came over to get the ratio of water to sugar correct and saw you had posted this.

    1. Hi Sara, black soy sauce is on the sweet compared than regular soy sauce so you are right about that. I’m a wuss when it comes to chilies so my recipes don’t tend to be too spicy :). The ginger tea is the best isn’t it? Love it!

  2. Dear Pat
    I had a similar experience to you. I was once at a fabulous Thai restaurant on the Gold Coast of Australia, and a friend ordered the most amazing Basil Pork dish. I too have always wanted to recapture that flavour one day.
    Yesterday, I found your recipe and made it with chicken mince. My husband and poodle and I jumped in the car with a picnic hamper, and a superb bottle of red wine, and took the basil chicken and rice off on a picnic.
    Wow! We loved it. We’ll certainly be making it again this week. Our verdict: It’s a Keeper!
    Thanks so much for taking the trouble to put it on the internet.

  3. This was great! I’ve made this dish a bunch of times before and it never tasted as good. I think the secret ingredient is the oyster sauce.

  4. heres what i do for thai basil pork (750g minced)

    2 tablespoons of oil, and then fry the pork until its cooked. depending on what kind of pork you use and how much gravy comes out, add 2-3 tablespoons of water. if theres enough gravy then its not necessary. add 1 bulb of chopped garlic and about 8 finely chopped chilli padis. fry for about 1 minute, before adding, 4 tablespoon oyster sauce, 1 tablespoon fish sauce, 1 tablespoon dark soya sauce, 1 table spoon light soya sauce and sugar to taste (i usually put in about 2 tablespoon). then add the basil and fry for a further 2 mins.

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