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!